Meet the researchers working on regenerative neuroscience in Merja Voutilainen’s Lab.
Merja Voutilainen

Principal investigator

I am a pharmacologist and neuroscientist specialized in preclinical research of neurodegenerative diseases.

As a principle investigator, I am running a research group which studies CDNF/MANF family of neurotrophic factors. We are mainly focused on Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s disease and are trying to find neurorestorative treatments that promote functional recovery.

Merja Voutilainen's research and contact information

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Anu Hyysalo

Post doc

My research focus is modelling neurodegenerative diseases (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s disease (PD)) with patient specific human induced pluripotent stem cell–derived neurons in vitro. The effect and functional mechanisms of the novel neurotrophic factor CDNF is studied in these models, in order to investigate the potential of CDNF for the treatment of ALS and PD.

My background is in stem cell research and neuronal differentiation. I joined the team in the beginning of 2018, after defending my PhD dissertation from the University of Tampere.

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Jinhan Nam

Post doc

My research focus is the neuroprotectional effect of growth factors in neurodegenerative disease models, such as Parkinson’s disease and ALS. I am also especially interested in the mode of action of growth factors in glial cells and neurons.

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Anne Panhelainen

Post doc

I have built an expertise in the physiology and pathophysiology of brain dopamine systems. More specifically, I have widely studied the mesolimbic dopamine pathway in relation to motivation, behavioral conditioning and addiction biology, and on the other hand the nigrostriatal dopamine pathway in relation to regulation of movement and neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s disease. I’m developing novel Parkinson’s disease research models to allow improved drug development. We focus on pathological alpha-synuclein aggregation models at several levels and try to understand better the progressive inclusion formation and neuron death, in order to find novel therapeutic targets for neurodegenerative diseases.

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Francesca De Lorenzo

Ph.D student

I got my Bachelor Degree in Biotechnology from the University of Milan in 2012. I then decided to move to Finland to study Neuroscience at the University of Helsinki, where I got my Master Degree in 2014. Since my studies, I realized my deep interest for neurodegenerative diseases and I was excited to join Mart and Merja's work on ALS for my PhD. My research focus is on understanding the mechanisms behind the therapeutic effect of CDNF in different rodent models of ALS.

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Polina Stepanova

Ph.D student

I joined the Voutilainen group in several years after my Master’s degree defense, and I am performing studies on the effect of Cerebral Dopamine Neurotrophic Factor, CDNF, on non-motor symptoms, which are involved with diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s. I am currently working on methods, which can shows us the effect of CDNF on toxin and transgenic models of Huntington’s disease.

My background is biology (BSc in 2009, Saint-Petersburg State University) and neuroscience: from neuron to cognition (MSc in 2011, Saint-Petersburg State University), I am currently doing my PhD in Voutilainen's group.

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Juho-Matti Renko

Ph.D student

Juho-Matti completed his Master's Degree in Pharmacology in the University of Helsinki, and is now doing his PhD on neurotrophic factors and Parkinson's Disease. He did a Roche Internship for Scientific Exchange in Basel, Switzerland, from 2017 to 2018.

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Aastha Singh

Ph.D student

My research interests include Parkinson’s disease (PD) and the cerebral dopamine neurotrophic factor (CDNF) as a novel therapeutic drug for the disease. I am currently studying the effects of CDNF in several alpha-synuclein models of PD.

I completed my Master’s degree in Neuroscience at University of Helsinki and I am currently pursuing my PhD in Voutilainen’s group.

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Liam Beckett

Ph.D student

I joined the Voutilainen group in 2018, with a research focus on the next generation neurotrophic factors (NTFs) as a novel therapeutic in motor neuron disease. My current focus is into the development of bio screening assays, the effects of NTFs in patient-derived stem cells and in vivo models of ALS.

I graduated with a BSc (Hon) Medical Neuroscience, and MSc Neuroscience from the University of Sussex, UK. My research background is in neurodegenerative disease, having previously worked on plasmid generation in ALS, and cellular based assay development to screen novel drug compounds in a range of neurodegenerative disorders.

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Tuulikki Viljakainen

Ph.D student

I began doing my Master’s thesis in Voutilainen group in 2017, and then continued working with the projects related to my PhD studies. My research interests are CDNF and Parkinson’s disease. I am studying the protective and restorative effects of CDNF, and related proteins, for nigrostriatal dopamine neurons using in vivo and in vitro methods. I am also interested in working with stem cells and understanding the mechanism and pharmacokinetics of CDNF.

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Tapani Koppinen

Ph.D student

I completed my Master's degree in Translational Medicine in the University of Helsinki in 2020. For my PhD, I am continuing on the work I did for my thesis in Voutilainen group: uncovering the role of ER stress and neuroinflammation in Multiple Sclerosis, as well as the interactions between neurotrophic factors and the immune system. I am hoping to be a part in the development of the first regenerative treatments for MS.

Tapani Koppinen's research and contact information

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Shuai Ke

I began to pursue my Doctoral Degree in the Voutilainen group in 2020, with a research focus on a potential drug target for ALS at transcript and protein level, and its effect on neurotrophic factors (NTFs) in vivo. I’m also interested in the effect of the cerebral dopamine neurotrophic factor (CDNF) in ALS and PD.

I got my Master’s degree and Chinese doctor license in neurosurgery. My Master’s project focused on central nervous tumors, especially on gliomas and GBM.

Janika Sirjala

Master's degree student 

I am a master’s degree student in the University of Helsinki and I received my bachelor’s degree in biotechnology and chemical engineering in Metropolia University of Applied Science. I did my bachelor’s thesis on an individual identification quality control tool for genotyping unit at FIMM (Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland). I started in Voutilainen group in September 2017 as a laboratory technician. My main task’s are cell and stem cell culturing and maintenance of the laboratory, as well as quantification and analysis of samples from both in vivo and in vitro experiments.

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Konsta Valkonen

Master's degree student

I am studying molecular biosciences at the University of Helsinki in Viikki campus, and currently finishing my B.Sc studies. Since 2017 I have worked in Merja Voutilainen’s group as a research assistant, mainly helping Ph.D students and post-docs with a wide variety of tasks, including genotyping and IHC. My main interests are neurobiology and different neurodegenerative diseases, and I’m aiming to gain a broad knowledge in the field.

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Jaan Korpikoski

Master's degree student

I'm a student of Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, and I am writing my thesis on PD. My keen interests are histology and neurobiology. As a research technician, I feel privileged to help our researchers with their ambitious work to understand the functions of neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS and PD, and finding key solutions for treating them.

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 Dr. Katrina Albert  → Cambridge University, UK 

Dr. Tanja Hyvärinen → University of Tampere, Finland

MSc. Sara Figuerola Santamonica → Roche Pharmaceuticals, Switzerland

BSc. Matilda Sinkko → Henna Tyynismaa Lab, University of Helsinki