Meet the people behind the science.

We are always looking for motivated people to join our team! Contact for inquiries.

Sara A. Wickström

Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology

Sara studied medicine at the University of Helsinki, Finland and absolved a M.D/PhD. program receiving her MD in 2001 and PhD in 2004.  After postdoctoral training with Reinhard Fässler at Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried, she was in 2010 appointed as a Max Planck Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Ageing in Cologne, Germany. Since 2018 she is back in Helsinki and is currently Sigrid Juselius Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology at the Faculty of Medicine and Helsinki Institute of Life Science.


Leah Biggs

Academy Fellow

Leah is a native Iowan and completed her BSc in biology at Iowa State University. She obtained her PhD at the University of Iowa under the guidance of Dr. Martine Dunnwald, investigating keratinocyte differentiation and epidermal homeostasis. She then moved to the University of Helsinki for a postdoc in the Mikkola group to study hair follicle induction. Leah is interested in the signaling between stem cell niches to maintain skin homeostasis and developing technology to study and apply these principles. In September 2020 Leah started her own research group at the Stem Cells and Metabolism Research Program at the Medical Faculty, University of Helsinki.



Karolina Punovuori


Karolina received her BSc in Molecular Biology at the University of St Andrews, Scotland in 2014. She then completed a PhD in Stem Cell Research under the guidance of Dr Sally Lowell at the University of Edinburgh, where she studied the effects of cadherin switching on the neural differentiation of embryonic stem cells. She joined the Wickström lab in 2019, where her postdoctoral work is focused on understanding cancer heterogeneity and stem cell behaviour in 3D models of oral squamous cell carcinomas. When not in the lab, Karolina can usually be found playing beach volleyball, or cooking and eating tasty vegetarian food.


Matthias Rübsam


Matthias received his PhD from the University of Cologne in the laboratory of Carien Niessen, working on junctional mechanics, signaling and barrier function in the epidermis and became specifically interested in more general aspects of cellular mechanics. In 2020 Matthias joined the Wickström lab at the Max Planck institute. In collaboration with physicists and mathematicians he wants to understand how nature uses cellular mechanics to allow directional cell movement in multilayered tissues like the epidermis. As a trained carpenter and car guy Matthias loves automotive mechanics as much as tissue and cellular mechanics and thus free time is often used to work on old cars or build furniture.


Michele Nava

Postdoc - Marie Curie Fellowship

Michele studied Biomedical Engineering at Politecnico di Milano, Italy and obtained a PhD in Strucural Engineering from the same institute in 2015. In 2017 he obtained a Marie Curie Fellowship and joined the Wickström lab. Michele uses a combination of experimental and theoretica approaches to understand how mechanical forces are sensed by the nucleus and how the nucleus responds to mechanical stress to protect the genome.


Irene Ylivinkka


Irene holds a MSc in Biochemistry and a Phd in Medicine. She obtained her PhD in Translational Cancer Biology Research Program at University of Helsinki where she worked with Docent Marko Hyytiäinen and Prof. Jorma Keski-Oja. Her work focused on understanding cancer cell invasion using human brain cancer as a model. She investigated how cancer cell identity and polarity of the invasive sprouts are regulated by netrin signaling. After graduating she did a short postdoc in the group of Prof. Pirjo Laakkonen where she set up glioma angiogenesis models. In 2018 she  joined the Wickström lab where her research interests lie in studying intercellular communication in a developmental context. She is aiming to resolve how biomechanics and interactions between different cell types coordinate the growth and cell fate in developing hair follicles. Outside the lab Irene is dancer at heart, excited golfer and curious traveller.


Clémentine Villeneuve

Postdoc - Marie Curie Fellowship

Clémentine received her MSc in Cancer and Cellular Biology at the University of Rennes, France, in 2015. She then completed her PhD in Cellular Biology in the laboratory of Dr Philippe Chavrier at Institut Curie, Paris. She studied the role of the polarity protein aPKCiota on basally-oriented cell extrusion and early breast cancer cell dissemination. She joined the Wickström lab in 2020 where her postdoctoral work is focused on understanding mechanisms involved in epidermal stratification and how biomechanical signaling regulates cell fate and positioning during development. Outside the lab, Clementine likes cats, reading books and having fun with friends.



Ali Hashmi


Ali Hashmi is from Lahore, Pakistan, and holds a master's degree in bioengineering from Stanford and a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Washington State University. Ali completed his Ph.D. in biophysics working in the lab of Pierre-Francois Lenne at IBDM Marseille. There he probed early symmetry breaking and patterning events in mammalian morphogenesis using in vitro approaches. In his current work Ali combines computational methods with quantitative imaging to unravel some of the mysteries of development - particularly how cell fate heterogeneity is established in cellular communities.


Aki Stubb


Aki received his BSc and MSc degree in biomedicine and drug development science at the University of Turku, Finland, in 2015. After this, he started PhD work in Professor Johanna Ivaska’s group at Turku Bioscience center. In the main project, he studied the nanoscale architecture of focal adhesions in pluripotent stem cells and received his PhD in 2019. He then joined the lab of Professor Ewa Paluch in Cambridge, the UK, where he initiated his postdoctoral investigating the role of the cell environment and single-cell mechanics in the regulation of early fate selection in the mammalian embryo. He joined the Wickstöm group in 2021 and continues exploring the cell proximal environment in regulation of cell cytoskeleton and fate using developmental organoids. Outside of the lab, Aki loves traveling, cooking and spending time with his family and dogs.


Franziska Peters

Postdoc - DFG Walter Benjamin Fellowship

Franziska is a clinician scientist. She obtained her specialization in Medical Microbiology, Virology and Infection Epidemiology and a second specialization in Dermatology and Venerology from the University Hospital of Cologne. Franziska investigates the role of sphingolipids in epidermal tissue homeostasis. She started on a collaborative research project of Prof. M Krönke (University of Cologne) and Prof. CM Niessen (University of Cologne) and then continued as a clinician scientist within the SFB 829 - Molecular Mechanisms Regulating Skin Homeostasis. In 2021 she joined the Wickström lab to elucidate the role of membrane sphingolipid compositions in orchestrating adult stem cell maintenance and fate. Franziska aims at translating basic research fining’s into treatment concepts for lipid-associated skin barrier diseases. When not in the lab, Franziska loves traveling, being outdoors, preferably close to the sea side and cycling.


Karlo Skube

PhD student

Karlo received his M.Sc. in Molecular Biology from the University of Zagreb, Croatia in 2018. In his master thesis at the Department of Molecular Biology he investigated the effects of ascorbic acid on osteosarcoma cancer stem cells. He joined the Wickström lab in May 2018 and is interested in the role of nuclear actin in chromatin architecture, transcription, and stem cell fate regulation. In his free time he enjoys traveling, meeting new people and trying local food.


Ahsan Javed

PhD student

Ahsan obtained his Bachelors (B.Sc. Hons.) in Biotechnology from University of Health Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan. During his B.Sc., he worked on isolation and molecular identification of zoonotic pathogens from poultry particularly Salmonella species. He graduated with M.Sc. in Molecular Bioengineering from Technische Universität Dresden. He performed his Master thesis research at Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden, which focused on the molecular analysis of pancreatic β-cell maturation in zebrafish. He joined Wickstroem Lab in July 2018 for his PhD. Ahsan is interested in understanding how mechanosensory ion channels regulate proliferation, positioning and differentiation of epidermal stem cells. In the future, he aims to put his efforts in translational biology. Besides research, he has interest in swimming, cricket, badminton, photography and travelling..


Fabien Bertillot

Research engineer

Fabien was trained as a physicist and obtained a PhD in Biological Physics from Institut Curie, France in 2017. After his PhD Fabien worked for 2 years as a data scientist in a startup developing digital pathology monitoring tools. During this time he got interested in developing clinical decision support systems. He joined the Wickström lab in 2020 as a bioimage research engineer. His goal is to develop bioimage analysis pipelines to study cancer heterogeneity in colorectal and head and neck cancers.


Bhagwan Yadav


Bhagwan is a bioinformatics specialist/ computational biologist who received PhD in Bioinformatics from University of Helsinki in 2017. He is specialized in modelling, analysis and integration of high-throughput drug screening (HTDS) data and next generation sequencing (NGS) data. In this lab, he is responsible for data analysis, development and maintenance of NGS data analysis pipelines.


Mirjam Binner

Masters student

Mirjam received her BSc in Nutritional Science at the University of Vienna in 2019. She then switched to the University of Applied Sciences of Vienna where she is currently doing her Master’s in Molecular Biotechnology. Mirjam joined the Wickström lab in February 2021 to pursue her master thesis project which focuses on understanding the effects of specific colorectal cancer mutations on the nuclear morphology and mechanics of cancer cell organoids. In her free time she enjoys being active, reading and traveling.


Lab alumni


2011-2013 Kristina Behrendt (now Bayer Healthcare)

2013-2016 David Schneider (now Bayer Technology Services)

2014-2015 Chloe Yeung (now postdoc University of Copenhagen, DK)

2016-2017 Saman Honarnejad (now Director at Pivot Park Screening Centre, NL)

2013-2018 Carlos Andrés Chacón-Martínez (now CFO at Mane Biotech)

2016-2019 Christine Kim (now Research Fellow, DGST, South Korea)

2018-2019 Koichiro Maki (now Assistant Professor at Kyoto University, Japan)

2018-2020 Leah Biggs (now Academy Fellow and PI, University of Helsinki)

2017-2021 Yekaterina (Kate) Miroshnikova (now Stadtman Tenure Track Investigator and PI, NIH, USA)

PhD students:

2010-2014 Jessica Morgner (now postdoc NKI, NL)

2011-2015 Sushmita Ghatak (now postdoc University of Cologne, GER)

2013-2016 Le Quang Huy (now Senior Scientist at Boehringer-Ingelheim, GER)

2016-2020 Janis Koester (now postdoc at Roche, SUI)

Master students:

2012 Christian Pichlo

2015 Nadja Breidenbach

2016 Stavroulla Artemiou

2017 Nina L’Hoest

2021 Sagarika Dawka

MD students:

2017-2018 Tim Hammesfahr

Bachelor students and interns:

2020 Thomas Underwood

2019 Samyukta Mallick

2016 Maribel Schönewulff