People
Meet the people doing the research.

We look forward for motivated people to join our team!
Harri Itkonen (Group Leader)

I started as a Group Leader in the Medical Faculty in 2020 after completing my PhD training in University of Oslo and Postdoctoral training in Universities of Harvard and Cornell. During my career, I have adopted relevant techniques driven by the insights from the data generated. This has necessitated establishment of international collaborations. Currently, we have collaborative projects with Leibniz Institute on Aging and Universities of Oxford, Cornell, Turku and Trondheim, to name a few. 

My scientific interest is broadly in the feedback relationships between metabolism and chromatin/transcription. More specifically, I have largely focused on the contribution of O-GlcNAc transferase (OGT) to the etiology of prostate cancer and uncovered a series of hitherto unrecognized relationships between OGT and metabolism, chromatin remodeling, transcription and cell cycle. In many of these cases, this has led to translationally relevant insights into the combination therapies that durably restrict prostate cancer cell proliferation. 

Currently, our research focuses on the transcriptional kinases that regulate RNA polymerase II (RNA Pol II) activity. Compounds targeting transcriptional kinase halt the proliferation of aggressive prostate cancer cells, but currently it is not known, why cancer cells are so dependent on these kinases. RNA Pol II transcribes the protein-encoding part of the genome, and as such, ultimately dictates the fate of every cell. Transcriptional program is regulated at multiple levels, from epigenetic marks to alternative splicing. We have set up the tools to analyze chromatin structure, active transcription via metabolic labeling and alternative splicing. These tools are essential to explain why prostate cancer cells are so dependent on the high activity of the transcriptional kinases. 

Email address: harri.itkonen@helsinki.fi 

Contact: +358 2941 25315 

Satu Pallasaho (PhD Trainee)

I have graduated as a Master of Science in Technology from Aalto University. My major is biomedical engineering. The topic of my Master’s Thesis was retinal pigment epithelium heating treatment for age-related macular degeneration. In my PhD project, I study the mechanisms that regulate gene transcription, and how these mechanisms could be targeted in the treatment of lethal prostate cancer. I focus on three proteins that modify RNA Polymerase II post-translationally: cyclin-dependent kinases (CDK7 and CDK12) and O‐GlcNAc transferase (OGT). This project has the potential to uncover novel approaches for the treatment of prostate cancer. In my free time, I enjoy reading, dancing, and spending time in the nature. 

Email address: satu.pallasaho@helsinki.fi 

Aishwarya Gondane (PhD Trainee)

I have received my Master in Science degree specializing in Bioinformatics in 2017 from India. After that, I was working in an IT company (Persistent Systems) as a Domain Engineer (bioinformatician) for 3 years.

My PhD-project focuses on employing comprehensive transcriptome profiling of prostate cancer cells to explain:

  1. How the transcriptional kinases (CDK7, CDK9 and CDK12) control the activity of RNA polymerase II in normal and prostate cancer cells.
  2. How does the inhibition of O‐GlcNAc transferase (OGT) affect the transcriptional machinery.

The ultimate goal of my study is to develop a candidate treatment strategy against aggressive prostate cancer.

Email address: aishwarya.gondane@helsinki.fi

Lilia Björkgren (Research Intern)

My project focuses on prostate cancer specific transcription factors and their dependencies on transcriptional kinases. 

This could be you

If you are interested in our group or muffins do reach out!

Alumni
  • PhD Xun Lu (currently Lab manager at University of Helsinki) 
  • MD-PhD rotation student Ida Porkka (currently MD-PhD Student) 
  • MD-PhD rotation student Alma Helevä (currently MD-PhD Student) 
  • MSc Student Samuel Girmay (MSc Thesis; currently Project worker at Aalto University) 
  • MSc Student Satu Pallasaho (currently PhD Student at University of Helsinki) 
  • MSc Anni Kuivalainen (currently Project lead of Gam-e-quality / Team Lead @Helsinki Think Company)