Viikki Molecular Nutrition group focuses on the effects of nutrition on human health.
Anne-Maria Pajari, group leader, PI

My passion is to understand how diets, nutrients, and diet-derived bioactive compounds exert their effects on human health at the molecular, cellular, tissue, organ and ultimately whole-body levels. I am particularly interested in the gut physiology and the effects of dietary protein, fibre, and polyphenolic compounds on the gut microbiota and metabolism. Despite many recent research efforts, we have just started to understand the whole potential and meaning of the interactions of diet and gut microbiota to human health and prevention of non-communicable diseases. Most of my research projects share the goal of gaining insights into the mechanisms between diet, gut metabolism, and health.

It has become increasingly clear that diets and food systems as a whole not only affect our health but also have major effect on environment and climate change. By reducing the consumption of animal-derived foods and increasing plant-based ones, we could achieve both health benefits and promote sustainability. However, we do not know what happens exactly in terms of nutrition when we start replacing animal-derived foods with plant-based foods. My goal is to address what is the bioavailability of plant proteins and how plant-based diets affect nutritional status.

In addition to research, I enjoy listening to classical music and have a season ticket to the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra's concerts. I also love reading about history, both fact and fiction.

Anne-Maria Pajari's research profile in the University of Helsinki People Finder

Essi Päivärinta, postdoctoral researcher

I have always been fascinated by physiology and cell biology. As a nutritionist, I am especially interested in the effects of diet at cellular and molecular levels. In my PhD thesis, I focused on studying the chemopreventive effects of berries, in particular cloudberry, on intestinal carcinogenesis in animal and cell models.

Even though I enjoyed controlling every single detail in dietary experiments in animal models, I sometimes dreamed about studying the effects of diet in human interventions. That dream came true in 2016 when I joined Viikki Molecular Nutrition group to work in ScenoProt project, followed by Leg4Life project in 2020. In these research projects, I am involved in planning, coordinating, implementing and reporting our human intervention studies, but the focus of my research interest is still in gut health and metabolism.

In my free time I sing in the "Ainottaret" choir, which includes a lot of training at home as well (as my family knows very well...). I also love gardening, knitting and reading.

Essi Päivärinta's research profile in the University of Helsinki People Finder

Suvi Itkonen, postdoctoral researcher

I am a nutrition scientist whose research interest lies in plant-based proteins, vitamin D and dietary phosphorus. I'm especially interested in the bioavailability of nutrients. I joined Viikki Molecular Nutrition Group in 2018 and my current work in ScenoProt project focuses on the effects of plant protein-based diets on phosphate metabolism and bone health. In Leg4Life project, I will travel to INRA, Paris for a research exchange period to study the bioavailability of faba bean proteins. I received the title of docent (adjunct professor) in September 2019. I have also been involved in the Finnish Society for Nutrition Research board work since 2013.

Apart from research, I enjoy being in nature, especially during autumn time picking mushrooms, chilling at (i.e. renovating) my +100-year-old summer cottage and travelling to unconventional destinations.

Suvi Itkonen's research profile in the University of Helsinki People Finder

Göker Gürbüz, postdoctoral researcher

I joined Viikki Molecular Nutrition Group in November 2018 as a post-doctoral researcher after acquiring my PhD degree in Food Science earlier the same year. My earlier research focused on oxidation of food protein and lipids.

My current research focus is to detect and identify metabolites of dietary polyphenols in stool and urine samples from ScenoProt clinical trial using the UHPLC-QTOF-MS equipment. Our aim is to look at the association of polyphenol metabolites with gut microbiota and biomarkers of chronic diseases carried out in the trial. We also study whether the polyphenol metabolites correlate with the cell viability and genotoxicity of colorectal cancer cell cultures exposed to faecal water from the intervention samples. This project involves the comparison of different diets that include either a high amount of plant-origin proteins or a high amount of animal-origin proteins.

In addition to my research work, I spend my time dancing Lindy hop, reading graphic novels and enjoying a wide range of music genres.

Göker Gürbüz's research profile in the University of Helsinki People Finder

Mikko Lehtovirta, postdoctoral researcher

I graduated from the University of Helsinki medical school in 1989 and have worked as a general practitioner since then. I've been part of the Botnia study group since 1992. The group aims to identify and characterise genetic and other risk type factors for type 2 diabetes. I defended my PhD thesis in 2014, which was based on studies on insulin sensitivity and insulin secretion among Finnish adult twins participating in the Finnish Twin Cohort Study.

Currently I am a post-doctoral researcher in the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in Complex Disease Genetics, Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland and HiLIFE at University of Helsinki. My area of research is conducting recall by human genotype studies to phenotypically characterise rare genetic variants associated with diabetes risk.

I have had the pleasure to work as a research physician for Viikki Molecular Nutrition group since 2016. The first effort that I was involved in was the ScenoProt intervention study, where the influence of whole diet, with variable composition of animal and plant proteins, on risk factors for colon cancer and type 2 diabetes was studied. Our new collaboration Leg4Life intervention deepens this approach by exploring the influence of legume-based proteins on human health.

Mikko Lehtovirta's research profile in the University of Helsinki People Finder

Emma Kynkäänniemi, PhD student

My doctoral researc focuses on investigating the effects of birch and spruce wood extracts on colon physiology and gut microbiota in rats. These by-products of forest industry are sustainable, abundantly available and have excellent stabilising properties with the potential to be utilised in the food and pharmaceutical industries. Due to the richness of fiber and polyphenols in these extracts, I am particularly interested in investigating their effect on gut health. I am absolutely delighted that I have the opportunity to combine the topics of sustainability and nutrition as these are the two fields I'm most passionate about.

Apart from research, I enjoy doing yoga (especially the dead man's pose, also known as the shavasana) and cooking with my friends.

Emma Kynkäänniemi's research profile in the University of Helsinki People Finder

Tiina Pellinen, PhD student

I am a nurse and a Master of Health Sciences. I started working in the ScenoProt project in 2016 as a research nurse and since 2017 as a PhD student. The aim of my PhD studies is to assess how replacing animal proteins with plant protein sources affects nutritional quality of the diet and in particular, what happens with intakes of nutrients and their biomarker status. In addition, I also aim to identify drivers and barriers for following more plant protein-based diets using experience diaries from study participants. 

Besides my work, I like to walk and cycle outside as well as spend time with my child.

Hana Slaba, PhD student

I completed my M.Sc. degree at the University of South Bohemia in Czech Republic majoring in Parasitology. In my master's thesis, I characterised novel serine protease inhibitor TILIr from Ixodes ricinus tick. I started my PhD studies at the University of Helsinki in January 2020.

Currently I am interested in the impact of dietary habits on faecal water genotoxicity. The focus of my research is on the cell fate after exposure to faecal water extracted from stool samples collected during dietary intervention with healthy volunteers. My goal is to measure the genotoxicity of faecal water and to compare the impact of the dietary patterns on the level of faecal water genotoxicity. I focus on detecting DNA damage sites by targeting phosphorylated H2A histone variant, H2AX, which has been recognized as a reliable marker for DNA damage, a prerequisite for tumorigenesis. Use of H2AX as a biomarker has great potential in diagnostics, prevention as well as future treatment of colorectal cancer.

Besides science, I enjoy travelling, reading, DIY-ing and spending time in nature.

Hana Slaba's research profile in the University of Helsinki People Finder

Anu Heiman-Lindh, laboratory technician

I came to work in the Department of Food and Nutrition at the University of Helsinki in 2007. Before that, I had gained experience in the development of pharmaceutical and antibiotic substances, making animal vaccines and carrying out viral serological tests, as well as utilising histological methods in a pathology laboratory. I have also worked in a project developing an anti-cancer drug, in which my task was to prepare and analyse nanoparticles.

Over the years, I have been involved in various research projects, where I have conducted development of methods, testing and validation related to liquid chromatography, spectrophotometry and enzymatic methods. My current duties include managing the laboratory, supporting the use of analytical devices, and actively helping the research group members to carry out their research, for example histological analyses. I also place orders, check invoices as well as guide students and trainess during the laboratory courses.

Outside the lab, I enjoy spending time with my family. I like gardening and enjoy sailing as well.

Anu Heiman-Lindh's profile in the University of Helsinki People Finder

Sini Kuosmanen, project coordinator

I earned my Master's degree at the University of Helsinki in 2019 majoring in Consumer Economics. My master's thesis dealt with private label groceries and food choice. I've always been interested in food and nutrition and studied Nutrition as one of my minors. I have a previous B.Sc. degree from English Philology.

Currently I work as a project planner for LeguComf project. In LeguComf we aim to find out whether by processing legume-based foods enzymatically it is possible to reduce the unpleasant gut symptoms caused by legumes. LeguComf is a collaboration between University of Helsinki, Valio, VTT and BeYou. I am also contemplating whether to apply for PhD studies.

In my free time I enjoy long-distance running (marathon distance is my favourite) and run-cations in different destinations, poledancing, Netflixing while knitting and reading.

Sini Kuosmanen's profile in the University of Helsinki People Finder