Researcher of the Month

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

May 2024

Pink Ribbon Cancer Researcher Phuong Doan finished her bachelor's degree in biotechnology in 2014 in Vietnam. In the same year, she was accepted to the master's degree program in bioengineering at Tampere University (formerly Tampere University of Technology). Phuong’s interest in cancer research emerged when she started in a research assistant position at the Molecular Signaling Group, headed by Docent Meenakshisundaram Kandhavelu at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology, Tampere University. Phuong completed her master’s thesis that focused on activating cell death signaling by extracellular components in Meenakshisundaram’s lab. Later, Phuong continued with her doctoral thesis in the same group with the aim of identifying a novel strategy for combating glioblastoma.

From Tampere to Turku

Since 2022, Phuong has worked as a postdoctoral scientist in the Cancer Cell Signaling Lab, headed by Professor Jukka Westermarck and located in the Turku Bioscience Center. Phuong’s research project aims to understand the link between protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) inhibitor protein CIP2A and DNA damage response. Over the course of two years spent in the lab, Phuong has significantly expanded her research tool kit, enabling her to work with advanced technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 knock-in, phosphoproteomics, and bioinformatics analysis. With leveraging state-of-the-art omics technology, Phuong is examining the phosphatases and DNA damage response aspects to address her research questions, as well as developing skills as a bioinformatic problem solver. With this comprehensive experience, Phuong aims to continue her research journey in cancer research, delving deeper into the molecular mechanisms of protein phosphatases and their associated signaling pathways in cancers, particularly in basal-like triple-negative breast cancer (BL-TNBC). BL-TNBC is a breast cancer subtype that isn't affected by hormones or the HER2 gene. It grows rapidly, is more likely to spread beyond the breast before diagnosis and is more likely to recur than other breast cancers.

Protein phosphatase 2A inhibitors in basal-like triple-negative breast cancer

Currently, Phuong has two projects under her hands. The other focuses on the importance of phosphorylation sites of DNA damage repair proteins in BL-TNBC. Through phosphoproteomics data analysis, Phuong and the group have identified several DNA damage repair proteins associated with PP2A inhibitors. Phuong’s own project aims to pinpoint a phosphorylation sites these DNA damage repair proteins that could play a pivotal role in allowing the basal-like triple-negative breast cancer cells to survive under DNA damage. Excitingly, preliminary results indicate that the mutation of a phosphorylation site on a specific DNA damage repair protein significantly impacts the growth of BL-TNBC cells. Further validations are currently underway to draw final conclusions.

The significance of a single amino acid

Another project investigates how  CIP2A binding to tumor suppressor PP2A affects the tumorigenesis of BL-TNBC. Phuong’s studies demonstrate the significance of a single amino acid; indeed, a mutation in just one amino acid in CIP2A can abolish the tumorigenesis of BL-TNBC cells. However, the underlying mechanism has not been explored and this is what Phuong aims to resolve via phosphoproteogenomics approaches. Additionally, it has recently been acknowledged that phosphatases are druggable, marking a significant milestone for researchers in the field of phosphatases, such as Phuong herself, who are dedicated to studying them. Phuong and the group maintain their focus on PP2A and its inhibitors, firmly believing that this research could evolve into a viable strategy for cancer therapy in the future.

Traveling and music balance work

Typically, Phuong takes a one-month vacation in winter to travel back to her family in Vietnam, thanks to the annual holiday system in Finland. With this vacation, she can balance her work while having enough time to keep in touch with her family and friends. Additionally, Phuong thinks that it is a great opportunity to escape one snowy and freezing month in Finland and get some more vitamin D from the sun before returning. Moreover, music is Phuong’s best friend. She typically listens to music while working in the laboratory but also loves to play the piano and thus learn new skills.

Phuong Doan's studies protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) and its inhibitors with the aim of developing a viable strategy for cancer therapy in the future.