Researcher of the Month

Researcher of the Month is a new series started in January 2023 where FCI's researchers are introduced.

February 2024

K. Albin Johansson Cancer Researcher Laura Hakanpää is an environmental microbiologist by training. She got fascinated with immunology and went on to do her master’s thesis in Ilkka Julkunen’s lab, in the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). Later, Laura joined Pipsa Saharinen’s lab in the Translational Cancer Medicine Program at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki. Her thesis work focused on characterizing a novel signaling pathway leading to vascular leakage in inflammation. 

Special interest in integrins and migrating cancer cells 

Currently, Laura’s main focus is to understand how the cell adhesion receptors, integrins, function in disease and especially in cancerous processes. She got interested in the functions of integrins during her PhD studies and still likes the topic most within cell biology.

Laura has worked as a postdoctoral scientist in the laboratory of Leonardo Almeida-Souza for the past 3,5 years. The group is very talented and international and focuses on endocytic cytoskeleton biology. The lab is located in the Institute of Biotechnology ((BI), HiLIFE, University of Helsinki) in Viikki, which Laura enjoys after spending 12 years at Ruskeasuo and Meilahti campuses. In Leonardo’s lab, Laura quickly undertook two projects that at first focused on clathrin mediated endocytosis and the function of septin cytoskeleton. In her hands, both projects now focus on understanding how cancer cells metastasize to secondary sites, and how this could be prevented. These projects, and the excellent research facilities the BI offers, allow Laura to work on integrin adhesion and cell cytoskeleton from the perspectives of both a basic scientist and a cancer biologist. Indeed, Laura has now exciting new results on an integrin mutation that slows down migrating cancer cells – these we will hear more soon.


Instead of blocking the migratory pathways, try to reinforce the stabilizing adhesions

In the summer of 2023, Laura together with her colleagues published a research article in the Journal of Cell Biology entitled Reticular adhesions are assembled at flat clathrin lattices and opposed by active integrin α5β1. In this paper, Laura studied how a new type of integrin-based cell adhesion is formed and regulated. Essentially, this new adhesion type, reticular adhesion, is formed in many cell types, also in cancer cells, and functions as a counterforce to the mechanisms that are activated upon cancer cell migration. Laura’s findings are important since they look at hindering cancer metastasis from a fresh perspective. A lot of research has been put on blocking the migratory pathways in cancer, whereas Laura’s studies focus on reinforcing the stabilizing adhesions that can counter the metastasis-promoting signaling pathways.

Music, ballet, and electric bass counterbalance science

Laura counterbalances work and science by spending time with her family and friends. Music is also very dear to her heart. She listens to various types of metal and classical music, also opera. Moreover, Laura has two hobbies to which she tries to find time to regularly: for 20 years, she has danced adult ballet, and as a PhD gift to herself, she started playing electric bass. 

Laura Hakanpää's research looks at hindering cancer metastasis from a fresh perspective: she focuses on reinforcing the stabilizing adhesions that can counter the metastasis-promoting signaling pathways.