Young investigators of the month

The Young Investigator of the Month honor at FIMM is a monthly highlight of a FIMM PhD student or postdoctoral researcher for a recent significant accomplishment.
2024 YIM Honorees
April 2024 - Lea Urpa and Satu Strausz

Congratulations to Lea Urpa for her recent first author publication in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

Urpa, L., Kurki, M.I., Rahikkala, E. et al. Evidence for the additivity of rare and common variant burden throughout the spectrum of intellectual disability. Eur J Hum Genet (2024).

Lea completed her PhD in the Palotie and Daly groups in February 2024 and is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Ollila group. Her interests involve the genetic contributions to neuropsychiatric disorders, including new research directions in the interaction between infection and neurological and psychiatric disorders. Her most recent paper identified contributions to intellectual disability and functioning not just from rare, highly penetrant genetic variants, but also from common variants identified in genome-wide association studies. Her free time is mostly taken up by a very energetic toddler, cycling, and reading.


Congratulations to Satu Strausz for her recent first author publication in the Nature Communications.

Strausz, S., Abner, E., Blacker, G. et al. SCGB1D2 inhibits growth of Borrelia burgdorferi and affects susceptibility to Lyme disease. Nat Commun 15, 2041 (2024).

Satu is a postdoctoral researcher in the Ollila group, whose recent study has focused on Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness caused by bacteria of the genus Borrelia, which presents a significant public health concern globally. Investigating the intricate interplay between host genetics and susceptibility to Lyme disease, Satu's work has unveiled novel insights into the genetic factors underlying susceptibility. Utilizing epidemiological and genetic data from FinnGen and the Estonian Biobank, the research has identified two previously known variants and an unknown common missense variant within the gene encoding Secretoglobin family 1D member 2 (SCGB1D2) protein, contributing to increased susceptibility to Lyme disease.Outside of research, you can often find Satu at the horse stable or skateboarding with children, enjoying her time with both horses and kids.

March 2024 - Anniina Tervi

Congratulations to Anniina Tervi for her recent shared first author publication in Science!

Krishna C, Tervi A, Saffern M, Wilson EA, Yoo SK, Mars N, Roudko V, Cho BA, Jones SE, Vaninov N, Selvan ME, Gümüş ZH; FinnGen§; Lenz TL, Merad M, Boffetta P, Martínez-Jiménez F, Ollila HM, Samstein RM, Chowell D. An immunogenetic basis for lung cancer risk. Science. 2024 Feb 23;383(6685):eadi3808. doi: 10.1126/science.adi3808.

Anniina is a doctoral researcher in the Ollila group, focusing on the intricate interplay between immunogenetics and complex chronic diseases. Her research delves into conditions such as Raynaud's syndrome and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (M.E./CFS). Notably, her recent publication contributes to the understanding of lung cancer susceptibility. The study identified an association between HLA-II (human leukocyte antigen) heterozygosity and reduced lung cancer risk, particularly in smokers. This finding suggests the immune system's potential to recognize and eliminate pre-cancerous cells triggered by smoking. This study sheds light on the significance of the immune system in cancer risk and may inform future lung cancer screening strategies. Outside of research, she enjoys spinning classes, reading, and outdoor activities.

January 2024 - Zhiyang Wang

Congratulations to Zhiyang Wang for his recent first author publication in Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology!

Wang Z, Whipp AM, Heinonen-Guzejev M, Foraster M, Júlvez J, Kaprio J. The association between urban land use and depressive symptoms in young adulthood: a FinnTwin12 cohort study. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2023 Dec 11. doi: 10.1038/s41370-023-00619-w.

Zhiyang Wang is a doctoral researcher in Group Kaprio, with a background in epidemiology. His doctoral project is about the relationship between the exposome, the totality of environments, and adolescent and adult mental health as a part of the EU Horizon project: Equal-Life. Utilizing the FinnTwin12 cohort and residential history from DVV, he established a comprehensive and longitudinal environmental database classified into 15 types of domains. He works on investigating the complex effect of the exposome, such as interaction and nonlinearity, on multiple psychological phenotypes via advanced machine learning methods and combines the exposome concept with the twin design novelly. In his spare time, he likes classic menswear.​

2023 YIM Honorees
December 2023- Linda Ottensmann

Congratulations to Linda Ottensmann for her recent first author publication in Nature Communications!

Ottensmann L, Tabassum R, Ruotsalainen SE, Gerl MJ, Klose C, Widén E; FinnGen; Simons K, Ripatti S, Pirinen M. Nat Commun. 2023; 14: 6934.

Linda is a doctoral researcher in the Statistical and Population genetics group led by Matti Pirinen. She has a background in Bioinformatics and Biostatistics. Her doctoral research focuses on Lipidomics and its link to genetics and cardio-metabolic disease risk. Utilizing lipidomics data from the GeneRISK cohort she identified genetic loci associated with lipid species in GWAS and detected genetic links between lipid species and diseases beyond standard lipids. In her current project, she is further examining the link between lipid species and diseases by utilizing data from FinnGen, UKBB, and Generation Scotland. In her free time Linda enjoys spending time with friends, running, going for walks with her dog and reading.

November 2023- Nella Junna and Pekka Vartiainen

Congratulations to Nella Junna for her recent first author publication in Atherosclerosis!

Junna N, Ruotsalainen S, Ripatti P, FinnGen, Ripatti S, Widén E. Novel Finnish-enriched variants causing severe hypercholesterolemia and their clinical impact on coronary artery disease. Atherosclerosis. 2023, 12: 117327.

Nella is a doctoral researcher at FIMM, in Group Widén with a background in Human Genetics. Her PhD project is about finding novel genetic risk factors for severe hypercholesterolemia and assessing their impact on risk for coronary artery disease, but also what is the impact of behavioral factors and attitudes on hypercholesterolemia. Besides genetic and questionnaire data, she has utilized longitudinal health records in the analyses from the GeneRISK and FinnGen studies. Nella has three cats, and her hobbies include defendo and kettlebell training.


Congratulations to Pekka Vartiainen for his recent first author publication in Lancet Digital Health!

Vartiainen P, Jukarainen S, Rhedin SA, et al. Risk factors for severe respiratory syncytial virus infection during the first year of life: development and validation of a clinical prediction model. Lancet Digit Health. 2023; 5: e821-e830.

Pekka is a postdoctoral researcher at FIMM, in the Data Science and Genetic Epidemiology lab at FIMM led by associate professor Andrea Ganna. He is also a medical doctor specialising in Pediatrics, and in addition to research, he is doing clinical work in the New Children’s hospital. In his postdoctoral research, Pekka has searched for risk factors for severe RSV infection in young children, to help protect those children at high risk with new emerging immunisation methods. He has been working with nationwide registry data, leveraging registry data into clinically actionable models and risk factors. Pekka enjoys sitting at the intersection of clinical medicine and data science, and is grateful for having been able to collaborate with and learn from experts with diverse backgrounds. Outside work, Pekka enjoys various activities with his family and two sons. Occasionally Pekka can be seen reading a book, or in the nature practicing adventure sports.  

September 2023 - Karina Barreiro and Jaakko Leinonen

Congratulations to Karina Barreiro for her recent first author publication in Genes, in which she integrated results from the publications included in her doctoral thesis (Barreiro et al. 2020, J Extracell Vesicles), (Barreiro et al. 2021, J Extracell Vesicles) and (Dwivedi et al. 2023, iScience).

Barreiro K, Dwivedi OP, Rannikko A, et al. Capturing the Kidney Transcriptome by Urinary Extracellular Vesicles-From Pre-Analytical Obstacles to Biomarker Research. Genes (Basel). 2023 Jul 8;14(7):1415.

Karina is a postdoctoral researcher and a technical specialist in FIMM HiPREP core, supervised by Dr. Maija Puhka and collaborating with Prof. Per-Henrik Groop and Associate Prof. Tiinamaija Tuomi. Her postdoctoral research focus on urinary extracellular vesicles as kidney liquid biopsies for early diagnosis and prognosis of diabetic kidney disease. This project is a continuation of her doctoral research, and it seeks to validate the group previous findings on candidate markers for diabetic kidney disease and assess whether additional markers could be identified including female and type 2 diabetes cohorts. Moreover, this project seeks to understand how the urinary extracellular vesicles candidate markers reflect kidney damage by studying kidney tissue biopsies. For FIMM HiPREP core, Karina performs RNA isolations and quality control together with the dynamic HiPREP team serving e.g. the largest precision medicine projects in the University of Helsinki. In her free time, Karina enjoys spending time with her family, doing some art, and watching documentaries.

Congratulations to Jaakko Leinonen for being awarded for the poster presentation at the 12th Annual Meeting of the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine.

Jaakko is a post-doctoral researcher in the Genomics of Sex Differences group (Tukiainen). During his time at FIMM, he has had a chance to learn and apply a wide range of genetic methods to study, for example, the genetics of puberty, cardiac arrhythmias, and sex hormones. Many of his current projects focus on understanding how different maternal features and events during pregnancy relate to children's later-life health, utilizing the rich FinnGen dataset. Outside FIMM, Jaakko enjoys time with his family, competes in different endurance sports, and coaches young athletes.

August 2023 - Prima Sanjaya and Max Tamlander

Congratulations to Prima Sanjaya for his recent first author publication in Genome Medicine!

Sanjaya P, Maljanen K, Katainen R, et al. Mutation-Attention (MuAt): deep representation learning of somatic mutations for tumour typing and subtyping. Genome Med. 2023 Jul 7; 15:47.

Prima is a doctoral researcher in the Machine Learning in Biomedicine research group, led by Esa Pitkänen, at FIMM. His doctoral research focuses on developing interpretable deep learning models in genomics for cancer diagnosis, subtyping, and prognosis. In his current project, he analyzes over 15,000 cancer genome sequencing (whole genomes and exomes) data in collaboration with the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG), Genomic England Consortium, and iCAN Flagship Project (the Finnish Pan-cancer Biobank) to enable the classification of tumors and tumor subtypes for clinical use. In his spare time, Prima enjoys playing music, video games, and sports such as tennis and badminton.

Congratulations to Max Tamlander for being awarded the Mia Neri Early Career Award for the best presentation in cancer research at the European Society of Human Genetics Conference 2023!

Max became interested in the genetic contributions to disease during medical school at the University of Helsinki. In particular, research questions on how the growing number of fascinating and complex genetic discoveries would be translated into viable precision medicine approaches led Max to pursue a PhD in statistical genetics at group Ripatti. His research on polygenic risk scores for colorectal cancer, currently one of the most common cancers, furthers the understanding of how common inherited factors contribute to susceptibility for the disease throughout the life course. Besides his research, he enjoys a variety of sports, outdoor activities and the company of friends and family.

June 2023 - Veera Timonen and Anni Varjonen

Congratulations to Veera Timonen (left) and Anni Varjonen (right) for their recent and first 1st author publications in Cytometry Part A and Cerebral Cortex!

Timonen VA, Kerkelä E, Impola U, et al. DeepIFC: virtual fluorescent labeling of blood cells in imaging flow cytometry data with deep learning. Cytometry A. 2023

Varjonen A, Claudia Schwarz C, and Vuoksimaa E. Co-twin design in brain imaging-review on biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease. Cereb Cortex. 2023

Veera is a doctoral researcher in Esa Pitkänen's group Machine Learning in Biomedicine ( Her doctoral thesis revolves around creating deep learning methods for hematological imaging data, including predicting cell images and inferring cell types in imaging flow cytometry data in collaboration with the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service (FRCBS). In her current project she is working with confocal microscopy images and multiomics data from FRCBS and FinnGen in order to examine genotype-phenotype connections in diseases enriched in the Finnish population. In her spare time Veera likes berry & mushroom picking, playing video games and bouldering.

Anni is a PhD student at Eero Vuoksimaa’s Cognitive and Brain Aging group at FIMM. Her dissertation project focuses on the genetic and environmental influences on dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and cognitive aging, utilizing data from the Finnish Twin Cohort. With the help of case-control co-twin design, her research aims to clarify the associations of dementia risk and protective factors on old age cognition and cortical structures. Anni is also part of the PhD and PostDoc council at FIMM. In her free time Anni plays soccer at HPS and enjoys many other sports on the side. She also enjoys creative activities such as drawing and painting, and of course spending time with her friends.

May 2023 - Tommi Strausz

Congratulations to Tommi Strausz for his recent publication in Sleep!

Tommi Strausz, Satu Strausz, FinnGen, et al. Genetic analysis of probable sleep bruxism and its associations with clinical and behavioral traits. Sleep. 2023

Tommi is a dentist clinician and a doctoral researcher in Hanna Ollila’s group. Tommi's doctoral research focuses on the genetic determinants of sleep bruxism. The main aim of his PhD research is to look at sleep bruxism, a common but complex disorder with many associations, through genetic methods. In his analyses, he has utilised questionnaire, medical record and genetic data in several longitudinal population cohorts, including FinnGen and the UK Biobank, to scrutinise factors associated with sleep bruxism. He is working on applying advanced epidemiological methods such as Mendelian randomization, to untangle the complex web of cause and effect regarding this disorder and related illnesses and comorbidities. During his PhD project Tommi’s interest in (dental) sleep medicine has increased, and he is hoping to expand and implement that knowledge in his clinical work. Tommi enjoys personal development and his family. 

April 2023 - Tuomo Hartonen

Congratulations to Tuomo Hartonen for his recent publication in Nature Human Behaviour!

Hartonen T, Jermy B, Sõnajalg H, et al. Nationwide health, socio-economic and genetic predictors of COVID-19 vaccination status in Finland. Nat. Hum. Behav. 2023

Tuomo is a post-doctoral researcher at the Data Science and Genetic Epidemiology lab ( at FIMM led by associate professor Andrea Ganna and in the INTERVENE-EU project ( During his PhD, Tuomo developed bioinformatics methods and machine learning models to help understand the role of transcription factor-DNA binding in regulation of gene expression. His research currently focuses on leveraging modern machine learning and high-throughput epidemiology methods to address public health issues using rich data from national registries and biobanks. He is also interested in the application and development of explainable AI techniques. In his free time he likes to do all things related to beach volleyball.

March 2023 - Michaela Feodoroff

Congratulations to Michaela Feodoroff for publishing three 1st-author papers in a couple of months: 1. SLAS Discovery, 2. Molecular Therapy Oncolytics, and 3. SLAS Discovery


1. Michaela Feodoroff, Piia Mikkonen, Mariliina Arjama, et al. Protocol for 3D drug sensitivity and resistance testing of patient-derived cancer cells in 384-well plates. SLAS Discov. Nov 2022.

2. Firas Hamdan*, Michaela Feodoroff*, Salvatore Russo, et al. Controlled release of enhanced cross-hybrid IgGA Fc PD-L1 inhibitors using oncolytic adenoviruses. Mol. Ther. Oncolytics. Feb 2023

3. Michaela Feodoroff, Piia Mikkonen, Laura Turunen, et al. Comparison of two supporting matrices for patient-derived cancer cells in 3D drug sensitivity and resistance testing assay (3D-DSRT). SLAS Discov. March 2023


Michaela is a doctoral researcher in Vilja Pietiäinen's team, under Olli Kallioniemi group (FIMM), and Vincenzo Cerullo´s (UH/Faculty of Pharmacy, supervised by Mikaela Grönholm) group with co-supervision from clinician Antti Rannikko (UH/HUS). Her research focuses on discovering novel, enhanced immunotherapeutic treatments for urological solid tumors, and her research is part of the iCAN Flagship subproject on complex immuno-organoids. In her research she´s using 3D cell models, clinically relevant drug compounds and oncolytic adenoviruses. Currently, her work focuses on immune system-mediated control of tumor growth and disease progression under the umbrella of precision and translational cancer medicine. In her free time, she enjoys sports and to spend time with friends.

February 2023 - Anniina Tervi

Congratulations to Anniina Tervi for her recent publication in Human Molecular Genetics

Tervi A, Junna N, Broberg M, et al. Large registry-based analysis of genetic predisposition to tuberculosis identifies genetic risk factors at HLA. Hum. Mol. Genet. 2023

Anniina's doctoral research focuses on the genetic determinants of myalgic encephalotitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) at the population level in the Ollila group. One of the main aims of her PhD research is to understand the complex relationships between ME/CFS and infectious diseases, psychiatric traits, and dysautonomia. In her analyses, she has utilised questionnaire, medical record and genetic data in several longitudinal population cohorts, including FinnGen and the UK Biobank, to identify genetic factors associated with these conditions. She is working on applying advanced epidemiological methods such as Mendelian randomization, to untangle the complex web of cause and effect in these disorders and related illnesses and comorbidities. In her spare time Anniina is an enthusiastic reader and book collector, hiker and a little bit of a painter.

January 2023 - Pyry Helkkula

Congratulations to Pyry Helkkula for his recent publication in Communication Biology

Helkkula P, Hassan S, Saarentaus E, et al. Genome-wide association study of varicose veins identifies a protective missense variant in GJD3 enriched in the Finnish population. Commun Biol. 2023

During his doctoral studies in statistical genetics in the Ripatti group, Pyry has tried to identify novel links between gene function and risk of cardiometabolic disorders, and find new ways to increase the probability of such discoveries. Firstly, he has leveraged the Finnish protein-coding variant enrichment and longitudinal population cohorts with rich phenotype data. Secondly, in his analyses, he has used existing and novel medication-based intermediary phenotypes that inform the likelihood of developing cardiometabolic disorders. Apart from medical research and trying to identify patterns in complex phenomena in general, Pyry enjoys doing a variety of sports and spending time with friends and family.

Previous YIM honorees
  • January: Jarno Kettunen
  • February: Heidi Hautakangas
  • March: Anil Kumar
  • April: Gabin Drouard
  • May: Alina Malyutina & Dimitrios Tsallos
  • June: Lea Urpa
  • August: Weikaixin Kong
  • September: Sanni Ruotsalainen
  • October: Aleksanteri Asikainen
  • November/December: Jadwiga Buchwald, Michaela Feodoroff, Heidi Hautakangas, Weikaixin Kong, Vesa Rahkama, Adithi Sundaresh, Zhiyang Wang
  • January: Shabbeer Hassan
  • February: Sanni Ruotsalainen
  • March: Dmitrii Bychko
  • April: Alyce Whipp
  • May: Vasudha Ahuja
  • June: Pyry Helkkula
  • August: Minxia Liu
  • September: Tianduanyi Wang
  • October: Paula Iso-Markku, Mattia Cordioli, Aleksandr Ianevski & Marjo Nuottamo
  • November: Meri Kaustio
  • December: Disha Malani
  • January: Aleksandr Ianevski, Doctoral student, Group Aittokallio
  • February: Tuomo Kiiskinen, Doctoral student, Group Ripatti/ Palotie
  • March: Yevhen Akimov, Doctoral student, Group Aittokallio
  • April: Elina Parri, Doctoral student, Group Wennerberg
  • May: Nina Mars, Postdoctoral researcher, Group Ripatti
  • June: Sebastian Stenman, Doctoral student, Group Lundin
  • September: Disha Malani, Doctoral student, Group Kallioniemi
  • October: Satu Strausz, Doctoral student, Group Ripatti / Tuula Palotie
  • December: Liye He, Postdoctoral researcher, Group Aittokallio
  • February: Suvi Virtanen, Doctoral Student, Group Latvala
  • April: Emma Cazaly, Postdoctoral Researcher, Group Ollikainen
  • May: Oscar Holmström, Doctoral student, Group Lundin
  • June: Bulat Zagidullin, Doctoral student, Group Tang
  • July: Alina Malyutina, Doctoral student, Group Tang/ Heckman
  • September: Sarang Talwelkar, Doctoral student, Group Verschuren/ Wennerberg
  • October: Sailalitha Bollepalli, Doctoral student, Group Ollikainen/ Kaprio
  • November: Rubina Tabassum, Postdoctoral researcher, Group Ripatti
  • December: Jie Bao, Doctoral student, Group Verschuren/ Horvath
  • January: Ashwini Kumar, Doctoral Student, Group Heckman
  • February: Sami Blom, Doctoral Student, Group Kallioniemi
  • March: Heikki Kuusanmäki, Doctoral Student, Group Heckman (FIMM) and Satu Mustjoki (HRUH)
  • April: Andrew Erickson, Doctoral Student, Group Mirtti
  • May: Mehreen Ali, Doctoral Student, Group Aitokallio
  • June: Kauko Heikkilä, Doctoral Student, Group Kaprio/Vuoksimaa
  • August: Komal Kumar Javarappa, Postdoctoral Researcher, Group Heckman
  • September: Alyce Whipp, Doctoral Student, Group Kaprio/Vuoksimaa/ Korhonen
  • December: Jaakko Leinonen, Doctoral Student, Group Widén
  • January: Disha Malani, PhD Student, Group Kallioniemi
  • February: Ashwini Nagaraj, PhD Student, Group Verschuren
  • March: Maija Puhka, Postdoctoral Researcher, Groups Kallioniemi and Groop
  • April: Himanshu Chheda, FIMM-EMBL Doctoral Student, Groups Ripatti and Aitokallio
  • May: Jenni Lahtela, Postdoctoral Researcher, FIMM Technology Centre Single Cell Analytics unit
  • June: Muntasir Mamun Majumder, FIMM-EMBL Doctoral Student, Group Heckman
  • July: Balaguru Ravikumar, FIMM-EMBL Doctoral Student, Group Aittokallio
  • August: Alok Jaiswal, FIMM-EMBL Doctoral Student, Group Aittokallio
  • September: Riikka Karjalainen, Doctoral Student, Group Heckman
  • October: Sini Kerminen, Doctoral Student, Groups Pirinen and Ripatti
  • November: Jarno Kivioja, Doctoral Student, Group Heckman
  • December: Anna Cichonska, FIMM-EMBL/HIIT Doctoral Student, Groups Aittokallio and Pirinen (FIMM) and Rousu (HIIT)
  • January: Bhagwan Yadav, PhD student, Group Aittokallio
  • February: John Patrick Mpindi, PhD student, Group Kallioniemi
  • March: Katja Närhi, Postdoctoral Researcher, Group Verschuren
  • April: Anna Cichonska, FIMM-EMBL/HIIT PhD Student, Groups Aittokallio (FIMM), Pirinen (FIMM), and Rousu (HIIT)
  • May: Dmitrii Bychkov, FIMM-EMBL/HIIT PhD Student, Group Lundin
  • June: Khalid Saaed, PhD Student, Group Kallioniemi
  • July: Prson Gautam, PhD Student, Group Wennerberg
  • August: Pietari Ripatti, PhD Student, Group Ripatti
  • September: Samuli Eldfors, PhD Student, Group Heckman
  • October: Suleiman Ali Khan, Postdoctoral Researcher, Group Aittokallio
  • November: Yu Fu, Master's student, Group Kainov
  • December: Poojitha Ojamies, PhD Student, Group Kallioniemi
  • October: Luca Trotta, PhD student, Group Saarela
  • November: Arjan van Adrichem, PhD student, Group Wennerberg
  • December: Anna Aakula, PhD student, Group Kallioniemi