My passion is increasing the quality of biological and molecular pharmacology as well as in disease models. We are doing it from our local niche, with internationally evaluated funding, and together with exceptional international collaborators. Modern pharmacological research is based on molecular biology and in understanding fundamental biological phenomenon at the molecular and cellular level. By combining modern tools in biology and pharmacology, we can find new drug targets, validate them, demonstrate proof of concept, and in the long-term develop new therapies. My extensive combination of expertise provides a solid ground for this. I am looking for students who feel passionate about our research interests to develop entirely new things.  

At the faculty level, I will work to end drifting of talented students, and we can do this by providing opportunities to find out personal and academic interests. I will also work towards providing possibilities for our students to be trained abroad at laboratories with exceptional quality. At the University level, I will work towards increasing international collaboration and postdoctoral training in high-quality laboratories. At the national level I promote internationally evaluated funding. I believe these are the critical factors for the success of Finland both at academic and economic levels. 

In my free time, I like to ski, fly fish, and make ultimate passes in floorball and football, and lyrics in -Kipinän hetki- by Ela et al., tells it all. I also enjoy various forms of art. 

I am originally from Canada where I completed my Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience. I moved to Finland to do my Master’s degree in the international MNEURO program. Here, I joined Mikko Airavaara’s and Mart Saarma’s groups and obtained my MSc. degree in Physiology and Neuroscience with a project related to ischemic stroke and microglia. I am now working towards completing my PhD in pharmacology in the Doctoral Program in Drug Research. 

I have experimented with several Parkinson’s disease models based on alpha-synuclein. I am interested in the protein cerebral dopamine neurotrophic factor (CDNF) and its effects in toxin and alpha-synuclein fibril -based models. My scientific goal is to develop models of Parkinson’s disease that are physiologically relevant, and then to develop biologicals to help bring potential treatments to the clinic.

In addition to research, I have my own English proofreading business, and am a student member on the board of my doctoral program. Previously I have been responsible for the whole slide scanner in our unit.

When I’m not working I’m using my lab skills to brew beer.

I joined Airavaara lab in 2012 to pursue a PhD degree in pharmacology. My PhD project is focused on studying ischemic stroke and especially the microglial activation and long-term inflammatory response occurring after ischemic stroke. As a potential new therapy, I am studying how the post-stroke recovery could be promoted with mesencephalic astrocyte-derived neurotrophic factor (MANF), and naloxone, a drug known to modulate microglial activation. 

We have recently shown that post-stroke MANF treatment promotes functional and brain tissue recovery (Mätlik, Anttila et al., Science Advances 2018). In another large study we found that the opioid overdose antidote naloxone is facilitating recovery when delivered intranasally after stroke (Anttila et al., eNeuro 2018). I will continue these studies and aim to decrease the translational gap to the clinic.

In addition to science, I enjoy travelling, sushi and trying out new Rieslings.

I joined Airavaara group in 2015 for specializing in whole slide microscopy, using a 3D-Histec scanner. At BI HISTOSCANNER in Viikki we provide a service for both academia and companies. I also carry out various assays for analysis of RNA, DNA, and proteins.

Outside work I enjoy sporty activities like agility with my Australian shepherds and on the other hand relaxing in nature and my garden.

It is still a mystery what is the exact role of certain protein aggregates in various central nervous system diseases: Lewy bodies in Parkinson’s disease, Aβ plaques and tau tangles in Alzheimer’s disease, etc. There is a high chance that common molecular and/or genetic pathways contribute to these protein accumulation phenotypes in neurodegenerative disorders. My interest in this big picture is distributed between the alpha-synuclein in Parkinson’s disease, and β-amyloid variants in ischemia. I have a background in molecular biotechnology and genetics, so I also focus on developing new tools to investigate these phenotypes on a genetic level. By having a multiple perspective approach, I am aiming to gain more insight into this centennial mystery.

In daily life, I enjoy solving other challenging puzzles like origami, and being in nature by activities like scuba diving and hiking.

I joined Dr. Mikko Airavaara’ team in 2012 as a CIMO fellow to study the role of a newly discovered human-specific protein GDNFOS 3 (glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor opposite strand 3). Studying a molecule that is unique and likely plays an important role in human intelligence, I have become fascinated by the human brain. Despite having a PhD degree in the field of molecular biology (2015, IMBG NASU, Kyiv, Ukraine), I have decided to pursue a second PhD in the field of neuroscience by joining the Doctoral Program Brain and Mind at the University of Helsinki. The project focuses on motivational behavior such as alcohol seeking after withdrawal. In addition, I am interested whether social interactions and a physically active life can be neuroprotective in prevention of Parkinson’s Disease (PD) by employing a lactacystin model of PD in environmentally enriched settings.

When I am not in the lab, you can most probably find me in my kitchen working through recipes in my cookbook, at the museum learning historical facts or in the art gallery admiring paintings, at home renovating old furniture or simply enjoying quality time with my family.

I am currently focused on searching for molecules that would upregulate expression of endogenous neurotrophic factors, and developing assays relevant to that endeavor. In my recent work, I have been able to establish completely new methods with CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology, and I am thrilled about that. My dream is quite obviously to contribute to a future where neurodegenerative ailments would be abolished. Being optimistic, I subscribe to the words of David Hilbert: “We must know – we will know!”

In addition to my work, I also enjoy things like programming and singing in the YL Male Voice Choir. The insights into science and futurism by Isaac Arthur’s Youtube channel are always a delight.

I completed my M.Sc. degree in pharmacy at the University of Helsinki majoring in pharmacology. For my Master's thesis, I developed a cell-based fluorescent assay for finding compounds which modulate the activity of Dicer.

My doctoral research focuses on proteostasis in dopamine neurons with implications to Parkinson's disease. I am particularly interested in the homeostasis and function of the endoplasmic reticulum in midbrain dopamine neurons, especially during their degeneration and repair. I use a multitude of biochemical and molecular biology techniques including CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology. In addition to genetic methods, high-content image analysis and pharmacological interventions are key tools in my research to dissect the aforementioned cells in various in vitro (human stem cell-derived dopamine neurons and primary neuronal cultures) and in vivo models. The ultimate goal of my research is to illuminate the inner workings of dopamine neurons and to find new drug targets and treatments (be it any therapeutic modality) for Parkinson’s disease.

In addition to research, I am enthusiastic about science communication.

Outside the lab, I enjoy spending most of my time with our two poodles.

I’m interested in enhancing the regenerative potential of the brain after ischemic reperfusion injury with therapeutic biological drug molecules. My research involves studying differentiation of human induced pluripotent stem cells into neurons, and reprogramming of human astrocytes into neurons, as well as dampening injury by systemic administration of molecules. My goal is to reveal the mechanism and roles of specific proteins in differentiation and reprogramming to facilitate the efficacy and neurite extension capacity. By establishing new labelling technology in Finland, I aim to find the critical molecular pathways involved in neurite extensions, identify and validate novel drug targets to develop new drug therapies to promote stroke recovery.

Besides science, I enjoy outdoor activities, and I especially like hiking. I am passionate about ice swimming and smoke sauna (savusauna, the original Finnish sauna).

I joined Airavaara Lab in 2017 and completed my thesis under supervision of Dr. Andrii Domanskyi and Dr. Mikko Airavaara on a project related to neurotrophic factors and alpha-synuclein.

Presence of aggregates of alpha-synuclein or Lewy Bodies is a key hallmark of Parkinson’s disease (PD). PD is a neurodegenerative disorder which can be characterized by progressive loss of dopaminergic neurons in substantia nigra pars compacta of the midbrain, initiated from striatum in a dying back manner resulting in motor as well as non-motor symptoms. Therapeutic interventions for PD are required to protect and repair nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons. My research focuses on exploring the effects of GDNF family of ligands (GFLs) as well as CDNF/MANF family in neurotrophic factors in combination with deep-brain stimulation in experimental models of PD. I think these would be translatable ways to promote survival of neurons and suitable candidate for halting dying dopaminergic neurons, and ultimately to repair the original connections.

Besides science, I like reading, exploring new places and local cuisines.

I’m at the third year of my B.Sc. studies in molecular bioscience at the University of Helsinki. I’m interested in neuroscience and neurodegeneration. I have established a near-infrared based detection of dopamine neurites in striatum (Penttinen et al., Frontiers in Neurology ,2018) among other biochemical assays in the laboratory and a new reporter assay for GDNFOS3 expression with CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology. 

Besides science, I enjoy sports and spending time in nature.

Post doc

Dr. Andrii Domanskyi, 2014-2015 ⇒ Academy of Finland research fellow, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki


Kert Mätlik 2012-2017 ⇒ Post doc, Rockefeller Univerisity, USA

Anna-Maija Penttinen 2012-2017 ⇒ Post doc, Université de Montréal, Louis-Eric Trudeau laboratory, Canada

Kuan-Yin Tseng 2013-2017 ⇒ Post doc, neurosurgeon, Tri-Service General Hospital and National Defense Medical Center & Tzu Chi University, Taiwan