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Maria Vartiainen: Cell research prepares the ground for future innovations

Maria Vartiainen is conducting groundbreaking cell research which may produce significant future benefits in the development of new medicinal products.

Maria Vartiainen knows everything there is to know about the secrets of cells. Early in her career, the researcher, who majored in chemistry and cell biology at the University of Jyväskylä, studied actin protein in cytoplasm. Later, she focused on actin inside the nucleus.

“The key issue is to understand how the nucleus is organized. We assume that actin plays a central part in this. This is the case with cytoplasm, but there has been significantly less research on the role of actin in the nucleus,” Vartiainen says.

Vartiainen already specialised in actin in her doctoral thesis. After receiving her doctorate, she worked at the renowned Cancer Research UK in Great Britain and, in 2007, set up her own research group in the Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Helsinki.

“The key objective is to identify the effect actin has on the organization of the nucleus and the expression of genes,” Vartiainen says.

Her research group is conducting groundbreaking research – even on an international scale. This is indicated by several articles published in respected scientific journals.

The European Research Council gave a five-year Starting grant to Vartiainen. In 2014, she received the For Women in Science grant, which is distributed bi-annually to a young, female, Finnish researcher by L’Oréal and Unesco.

Vartiainen has always been eager to learn something new about the operation of the smallest unit of life, i.e. the cell. Her basic research may also have major medical significance.

“For example, in many cancer types the structure of the nucleus is disturbed. Our research may act as a basis for various medical applications in the future, for example, in the development of drugs,” Vartiainen says.

Text by: Matti Remes
Photo by: Sini Pennanen