People

Kekäläinen lab personnel
Eliisa Kekäläinen, MD, PhD

Prin­cipal In­vest­ig­ator

Eliisa graduated as medical doctor from University of Helsinki in 2006. In 2011 she defended her PhD on Autoimmune regulator in the maintenance of immunological tolerance. She continued her research as a post-doc at Center for Infectious Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm Sweden. There she worked in prof. Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren’s group on tissue-resident natural killer cells. After returning to Finland in 2014, she started her specialization into clinical microbiology at HUSLAB, University Hospital Helsinki. Currently she shares her working hours between managing the research group and as a clinical specialist at HUS Diagnostic Center HUSLAB, division of immunology. In her clinical work, she focuses on the laboratory diagnostics of inborn errors of immunity.

Eliisa’s ideology to research is that it should be fun. Fun means bold experiments in a relaxed working environment. We do hard work when needed, but also maintain a reasonable work-life balance. We work as a team, and every team member is important. Every day we learn something new!

Eliisa's research profile

Sini Laakso, MD, PhD

Associated clinical researcher

Sini graduated as MD from University of Helsinki in 2009 and had finished also her degree in MSc Tech (Industrial Engineering and Management) in 2007 alongside with medical studies. Sini studied T cell immunology and defended her PhD thesis on Autoimmune polyendocrinopathy – candidiasis – ectodermal dystrophy in 2012 (University of Helsinki, Department of Immunology, group of MD PhD Petteri Arstila). Sini is currently specialising in neurology at the Helsinki University Hospital, and has projects with professor of neuroimmunology Pentti Tienari and adjunct professor Eliisa Kekäläinen underway on multiple sclerosis, myastenia gravis, new-onset refractory status epilepticus and Susac’s syndrome.

Sini and Eliisa are lab mates from the time of PhD studies and share an interest on inspirational out of the box - kind of science. Sini brings the perspective of clinical neurology to the team.

 

Dawit A. Yohannes

Postdoctoral researcher

Dawit holds MSc. in Bioinformatics from Aalto University and PhD from University of Helsinki during which he worked extensively on the application and development of Bioinformatic methods for the analysis of high-throughput genomic datasets. He has extensive experience from basic analysis of genomic data to higher level analyses in areas such as variant analysis, gene expression analysis from microarrays to RNAseq (both bulk and single cell data), and immune TCR repertoire analysis.

In his current post-doctoral research, Dawit is involved in the analysis of scRNAseq datasets in projects that study immunological disorders & immunodeficiencies. He utilizes bioinformatics, develops in-house pipelines/methods, and harnesses statistical and machine learning algorithms to help answer critical research questions.

Vasco Fachada

Postdoctoral researcher

Vasco joined the Kekäläinen Lab in 2024, coming directly from Jyväskylä, where he conducted research on skeletal muscle lipid droplets in the context of insulin resistance and exercise. His current focus is exploring the impact of immune cells' lipid metabolism on thymus health, primarily through a spatial biology and bioimage analysis approach. In his leisure time, Vasco publishes mushroom science and indulges in the grappling arts of Judo and BJJ.

Adam Alexandersson

MD, PhD student

Adam is currently doing his PhD on viral infections and immune reconstitution after pediatric allogenic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. With the purpose of better being able to predict viral reactivations and infections, he is looking for answers to why and how immune suppression causes viral infections in the post-transplant setting.

As a pediatrician specializing in hematology, his special interests are acute leukemia, virology and immunology. In his spare time, he spends with my family, and every once in a while, on the golf course.

Iivo Hetemäki

MD, PhD student

Iivo is currently juggling many balls with projects ranging from immunodeficiency to autoimmunity and back to basic T and B cell biology. His core competency lies in flow cytometry.

Pauliina Lusila

MD, PhD student

Pauliina is a PhD Student in the Pediatric Research Center and Translational Immunology Research Program and specializing in pediatrics in the New Children’s hospital. Her research focuses on the diagnostics of primary immunodeficiencies and immune reconstitution after allogenic stem cell transplantation in pediatric patients.

Joona Sarkkinen

MD, PhD student

Joona started in the Kekäläinen Lab in 2017 doing "bachelor´s thesis" on anti-cytokine antibodies. Fascinating world of immunology got a grip of him and alongside with medical studies, he started his PhD project in 2019 supervised by PI Kekäläinen and Dr Laakso. In 2021 he graduated as MD from University of Helsinki and currently he is continuing his PhD project.

His main focus is in Germinal Center reaction where he wants to understand how follicular T helper and regulator cells fine tune development of memory B cells and antibodies producing plasma cells. He studies different forms of Germinal Center reaction in autoimmunity (especially neurological diseases multiple sclerosis and myasthenia gravis), immunodeficiency and ovarian cancer with means of flow cytometry, (sc)RNAseq and especially image analysis based on multiplex immunofluorescence stainings.

Suvi Jokiranta

MD, PhD student

Suvi is a medical student/PhD student with a research focus on the immunological effects of COVID-19. She started at the lab in 2018 through the MD PhD program researching MAIT cells, but once the COVID pandemic hit, she changed projects.

Kirsten Nowlan

PhD student

Kirsten was a student in the translational medicine master's program. She completed her BSc in reproductive biology at the University of Edinburgh and her Msc project studying scRNAseq compatible cell preservation and fixation methods. She is now a PhD student in the Kekäläinen lab.    

Xiaobo Huang

PhD student

Xiaobo started her PhD project in Kekäläinen lab from 2021 under the supervision by Eliisa Kekäläinen and Tomas Strandin. 

Her main focus is T cell lymphopenia in respiratory viral infections, especially SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Eira Karvonen

PhD student

Alexandra Elsakova

PhD student

During Alexandra's bachelor’s program, she conducted research at the laboratory of molecular biology at IB Komi SC UB RAS (Russia), focusing on typing specific HLA genes associated with early-onset rheumatoid arthritis. The primary objective of this research was to explore potential molecular-genetic markers for preventive diagnostics. Subsequently, she pursued her MSc studies at the University of Tartu (Estonia), where she investigated the utilisation of epigenetic changes to estimate immune cell levels.
Currently, she is focusing on T-Cell Repertoire implemented as a potential source of personalised treatment options, where we explore APECED patients’ cell receptors and their potential applications in treatment options.

Saima Askeli

MD, PhD student

Saima is a medical student at the University of Helsinki and is working on her MD thesis and PhD project at Kekäläinen lab. She has a BSc in Computer Science from Aalto University. Her focus at the moment is the application of novel machine learning methods to problems in rare immunological disorders.

Vera Middelkamp

MSc student

Vera is a student in the translational medicine program. She joined as a research assistant in 2023, and is currently working on her master thesis. She completed her bachelor in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The main focus of her project in the lab is Recent Thymic Emigrants.

Heather (Huai Hui) Wong

MSc student

Heather is a master student from the TRANSMED programme. She graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) with B.Sc Hons in Life Sciences, and moved on to work on CAR-T cell therapy in the lab of Dario Campana at NUS. Her thesis topic is Long Covid. She enjoys reading and loves spending time with her cat outdoors.

Lab alumni

Simo Miettinen, MSc 

Simo did his master thesis in Kekäläinen lab during 2017 - 2018. The main project was to study IKZF2/HELIOS gene induction in human MAIT cells in response to E.coli bacteria and C.albicans yeast.

Iivari Kleino, PhD

Iivari was a postdoc in Eliisa's lab. His main project aimed for better diagnostics of thymic function after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. He worked on developing and running single cell mRNA and protein profiling analysis from PBMC samples. Alongside this, he did molecular, cellular and biochemical assays as necessary.

Nelli Heikkilä, MD, PhD

Nelli Heikkilä's principal interest is in the heterogeneity of human T cells, whether it concerns the T cell receptors or T cell phenotypes in healthy body or immunological disorders. She works with various immunological tissues using flow cytometry. She is also interested in T cell receptor repertoire analysis methodology.

Ngoc Anh Nguyen, MSc

Anh finished her master thesis in Kekäläinen lab.

Karen Drechsel, MSc

Karen finished her master thesis in Kekäläinen lab. The main project was about anti-interferon autoantibodies and AIRE expression in different diseases. 

Man Xu, PhD

Man graduated as PhD in virology from University of Helsinki. Her PhD projects focused on the clinical aspects, pathogenesis and persistence of viruses. She has extensive experience in assay development and optimization of molecular biology methods. She joined Eliisa Kekäläinen’s lab as a Postdoc in 2022. Her project was about the interplay between the immune system and respiratory syncytial virus with a particular focus on mucosal-associated invariant T cells.