Meet the FIMM-EMBL PhD students!

The FIMM-EMBL International PhD program began in 2010, and since then we have welcomed two to four new FIMM-EMBL students each autumn, listed below by year of recruitment.


Muntasir Mamun Majumder (FIMM-EMBL)

     Groups:  Heckman and Wennerberg
     Thesis topic:  Understanding drug sensitivity and disease biology in leukemia

Being fascinated with the research infrastructure and welcoming international atmosphere, I joined as the first FIMM-EMBL Doctoral student in 2010. I am a Pharmacist by training and studied MSc in Genetic Toxicology at Stockholm University before joining FIMM.

Right after my masters program as I was looking for PhD opportunities and FIMM-EMBL program caught my attention. After visiting FIMM for the interview I was totally convinced that FIMM is the place I wanted to be that combines cutting edge science, highly organized doctoral training and importantly an international atmosphere that supports growth of young scientists like me and trust me I was not wrong then.

Primary focus of my research is to identify novel therapies and combinations based on molecular alterations for treatment of multiple myeloma. During my training I have gained expertise on high throughput drug testing, next generation sequencing (NGS) and proteomics and making testable hypothesis from integrating multiple comics data. My research aims to stratify myeloma patients based on their drug response, understand the response pattern by studying molecular changes at the level of genome, transcriptome and proteome, which help the clinicians to design individualized treatment decisions. At the same time I delve into understanding the disease biology in more details. I rather call myself as translational cancer biologist since many of my day-to-day work can significantly impact quality of life of many myeloma patients being treated in the hospital next door. This part is extremely gratifying, keeps my motivation high and pipettes running. Outside my pipette world I enjoy travelling, photography, music and watching movies.



Himanshu Chheda (FIMM-EMBL)

     Groups:  Aittokallio and Ripatti
     Thesis topic:  Computational and statistical analysis of genomic data 

I'm a FIMM-EMBL PhD student. Prior to coming to Finland, I did my MSc in Bioinformatics from the University of Pune, India.

After my studies, i wished to pursue research. This is when i came across the FIMM-EMBL PhD program. This program interested me because of 2 primary reasons: the possibility of working in 3 different groups prior to selecting a project that interested me the most; the top notch research that the supervisors in this institute pursue.

Currently i am working on analysing whole genome and whole exome sequencing data. My primary interest being Finnish population structure and how the bottleneck effect can be used to understand genetic differences between an isolate population and an outbred population. We further exploit these differences to understand the prevalence of some diseases present at a higher frequency in Finland as compared to the other parts of the world. We also aim to understand the genetic aetiology behind some complex disorders using the Finnish population as a model.


Poojitha Ojamies (FIMM-EMBL)

     Group:  Kallioniemi
     Thesis topic:  Clonal evolutionary studies in AML

I am interested in studying how cancers evolve over time and space in an individualized medicine setting. I am very curious about how things work and find cancer biology fascinating! I have a Master’s degree in Bioinformatics from University of Helsinki and have gained 4+ years experience in dealing with high-throughput genomic and transcriptomic sequencing data. I like to broaden my horizons and not be limited to my current specialties. To this end, I have ventured into the wet lab to design my own hypothesis and experiments to gain a better understanding of the biological processes. My main goal is to utilize all available methods to understand cancer and not be restricted to what I know, since you can always learn something new.

FIMM-EMBL PhD provides me a perfect opportunity to hone my skills as well as train in new technologies while collaborating with multiple labs at FIMM. The possibility of translating your research findings to the clinic is very motivating. By the end of my PhD, I intend to train myself in multiple fields and hope that my projects have some impact on the field of cancer evolutionary biology. 


Alok Jaiswal (FIMM-EMBL)

     Group:  Aittokallio
     Thesis topic:  Synergistic target interactions to address drug resistance 

I am interested in how cellular systems work. I think of cells as a factory. Human-made-factories are designed to manufacture specific goods. They have different components designed to work together, in unison, to maximize production of goods. Similarly, cellular systems are like factories that are designed inherently for ensuring their survival. Cells cooperate with each other to form a functioning tissue and then a living organism. But, rogue cellular systems that are cancerous, use the same functional components of the system and exploit it for only increasing their number by maximising proliferation.

At a general level, I am interested in understanding what components of normal cellular systems are hijacked in this exploitative manoeuvre. Specifically, I use data from functional screens such as genome-wide RNAi screens to understand this. Usually, data produced by such technologies are dirty and provide an abstract snapshot of the functional architecture of cancerous systems. I am interested in using the right biological knowledge and statistical methods to clean the data from genome-wide loss-of-function screens, and then construct a picture of the functional landscape that is more authentic. From this, I plan to tease apart the essential functional components of cancerous systems and devise drug treatment strategies.

Meri Kaustio (FIMM-EMBL)

     Group:  Saarela
     Thesis topic:  Genetics of Primary Immunodeficiencies in Finland

I'm originally from the Turku area, but between 2006-2012 I studied biochemistry and molecular biology at the Biotechnology program of University of Tampere. In 2008-2009, I also spent a year studying genetics at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

In 2012 I finished my Master's thesis in Mika Rämet's group on fruit fly immunology, and later that year I started in the FIMM-EMBL programme, and rotated in groups Wennerberg, Saarela and Verschuren. Having been interested in immunology for quite a while, I decided to continue towards a PhD in Janna's group working on the genetics of primary immunodeficiencies.

Although human genetics and immunodeficiencies became my new "scientific love", I enjoyed all the rotations immensely. It was of course also a very busy and stressful time due to all the new topics, people and places, but I learned a lot. Most of all, I learned to appreciate and understand various fields of science better, and met a lot of great people whom I may not have otherwise had the pleasure of knowing.


Anna Cichonska (FIMM-EMBL/HIIT)

     Groups:  Aittokallio (FIMM), Ripatti (FIMM), and Rousu (HIIT)
     Thesis topic:  Computational Methods for Network Pharmacology

Hi, I am a doctoral student in the FIMM-EMBL/HIIT International PhD Program. Before coming to Finland, I received a MSc degree in Biotechnology, with major
in Bioinformatics, from the Silesian University of Technology in my home country, Poland. 

The FIMM-EMBL/HIIT position had come to my attention because it offered
an outstanding opportunity for the development of skills in the fields of my interests
- bioinformatics, computational systems biology and biomedicine. The group rotation period has been a great time to test myself in various new tasks and, importantly, it gave me the possibility to work on my PhD project in collaboration between three research groups
at FIMM and HIIT. I find it a truly multidisciplinary research environment with brilliant people from
a wide range of backgrounds, which allows me to look at both science in general and my PhD project in particular from different perspectives. 

I aim in developing new computational approaches for selecting optimal therapeutic interventions.
I plan to integrate machine learning algorithms with combinatorial network analysis, which will facilitate understanding drugs’ mode of action and finding targeted treatment options for complex disease phenotypes.

Outside of science, I enjoy travelling and any activities involving outdoors and sports.


Balaguru Ravikumar (FIMM-EMBL)

     Group:  Aittokallio
     Thesis topic:  Network perturbations as drug treatments:  modeling, prediction and testing in cancer models

I am Balaguru Ravikumar a FIMM-EMBL PhD student, I joined FIMM in the mid of 2013. I am from India where I completed all my prior academics; I hold a Masters degree in Computational and Systems Biology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Currently, I am a Doctoral researcher in FIMM working in the Computational Systems Medicine group led by Dr. Tero Aittokallio.

The focus of my thesis is geared towards developing holistic computational models of molecular systems and later using them as predictive platforms to identify compounds & druggable targets. This in-turn would translate to significant advancements in lead molecule screening & drug discovery.

My experience in the FIMM-EMBL PhD training program was both intriguing and anxious simultaneously. Being conventionally naïve to the outside world, this programmed was very helpful in many ways. Through the various rotation projects, I learned to accustom myself to new working environments and also developed the necessary academic maturity to pursue   PhD. Thereby once completion of my rotation projects I was able to evaluate my skill sets and identify projects that best suits me for my PhD, which I presume, is quite important for an early stage PhD student.


Sarang Talwelkar (FIMM-EMBL)

     Groups:  Verschuren and Wennerberg
     Thesis topic:  Discovery of stratified therapeutic strategies for KRAS-mutated lung cancer

I am second year PhD student working under the joint supervision of Drs Verschuren and Wennerberg to identify therapies against lung cancer. We are employing genetically engineered mouse model and human patient derived primary culture to model and to study the molecular and cellular features of non-small cell lung cancer and further utilize to dissect drug sensitivity and resistance pattern.

I obtained MSc degree in Biotechnology from SGB Amravati University, India. Before coming to FIMM I was working as a Research Assistant at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, USA, in the Department of Dermatology to investigate the novel molecular targets to treat non‐melanoma skin cancer.

I feel very fortunate to join FIMM-EMBL PhD programme because it allowed me to meet different supervisors, and work in their lab for a substantial period of time to understand the nature of work and overall atmosphere in the lab before I actually deciding about the PhD project. It really worked in my favor when I was able to establish active collaboration between two different research groups.



Dmitrii Bychkov (FIMM-EMBL/HIIT)

     Group:  Lundin

Hi, I am a doctoral student at Johan Lundin’s Research Group. My research focus is on image analysis of cancer tissue samples. Particularly, we apply Deep Learning techniques to identify new tissue/cellular patterns that are clinically relevant, improve reliability in diagnostic decision-making, and  eventually lead to the more accurate targeted treatments for cancer patients.

I studied computer science in St.Petersburg, Russia and then I came to Finland to study bioinformatic in Aalto University. In 2014 I started my rotations within FIMM-HIIT research groups. Rotation period gives an excellent opportunity to explore new areas in biomedical research and establish your PhD project consciously.


Ella Karjalainen (FIMM-EMBL)

     Group:  Wennerberg
     Thesis topic:  Identifying novel treatment strategies for overcoming drug resistance in AML

My background is in biology. I did my master’s studies in Turku University, in the department of animal physiology, concentrating mainly on ecophysiology. When I first saw the application call for the FIMM-EMBL PhD program, I had no idea what “translational medicine” actually even means. I got really intrigued, though, and decided to apply. I started as a FIMM-EMBL rotation student year 2014 and now I feel really lucky to have been chosen to do my PhD in an international, integrative and inspirational environment. 

I am interested in cancer biology, especially drug-resistance, the relationship between cancer and the immune system and how the cell differentiation programs are circumvented or redefined by cancer. My PhD project is about studying drug-resistance and selective drug-responsiveness in patients with AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) and exploring drug-induced changes in AML cell differentiation and expressed immune markers.  



Jie Bao (FIMM-EMBL/Neuroscience Center)

I’m Jie Bao, a new PhD student in the FIMM-NC joint programme.

Born and raised up in China, I was then educated in UK and Belgium; and now, here comes Finland! It is truly a life experience for me.

In the scientific field, I’m always fascinated by how cell behavior can be modulated by cell-cell communication, and how such mechanisms might be involved in tumorigenesis or cancer progression. FIMM will be a great place to nourish my insight and ability to study those questions at different scales and on multiple platforms.


I finished my Master's degree last September in University of Tokyo. After that I served as a technician at Chinese Academy of Science until I join FIMM.

I am interested in Individualized Systems Medicine related to cancer research.

I am really glad to join the rotation student program, as this can provide me with an opportunity to see different approaches to research problems and experience a truly inter-disciplinary research environment.

Shabbeer Hassan (FIMM-EMBL)

Hi, I am Shabbeer Hassan from the land of awesome tea-Darjeeling, India.

I am a trained statistician having a master’s degree in Biostatistics from Manipal University, India. Before that, I did various stints as a research assistant in India and Germany. My undergraduate degree is in Electrical Engineering.

My research interests lie in finding ways I can use statistics as a tool to answer  important questions in biology.

Alina Malyutina (FIMM-EMBL/HIIT)

Hi, I am Alina Malyutina – the FIMM\HIIT rotation student!

Initially, I came from Russian Federation, where I got a Bachelor Degree in Applied Mathematics and Computer Sciences. After that I had a wish to strengthen my knowledge in statistics and try to conduct research more individually abroad. Thus, I sent my application to the Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland. That is how I became a Master student in the field of Technomathematics.

Having dedicated almost seven years of my life to science, I realized - main reason for pursuing doctoral studies for me is a strong interest in research within a field of bioinformatics or computational biology. This factor motivates me to be a good specialist during previous studies and helps to develop such necessary qualities as perseverance, diligence and striving for success.

In addition, I would like to mention that I like playing tennis, skiing and group exercises, such as yoga and Pilates. Besides, I enjoy communicating with people and always open to explore something new. These qualities combined with my professional skills make me believe that I will be a positive addition to a FIMM or HIIT team.


Lea Urpa (FIMM-EMBL)

Hi, I’m Lea!

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and moved to Helsinki to study in the International Masters in Translational Medicine (TRANSMED) program at the University of Helsinki. I finished my Bachelors studies in biology at the Early Entrance Program at California State University, Los Angeles, then worked for two years in a neurobiology lab at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor before moving to Finland in 2014.

I am interested in the neuroscience and genetics of psychiatric disorders. My previous training is as a wet lab biologist, but I’m very excited to continue training in the computational biology topics that I began in my Master’s work. I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to study in an institute with such expertise in both bench and computational biology.

In my spare time, I organize a discussion club focused on the intersections in philosophy and science (the Biosophical Society) and sing in a Finnish folk music women’s choir (Kuokkavieraat).

Yevhen Akimov (FIMM-EMBL)

Iskander Zharkenov (FIMM-EMBL/HIIT)

I am a new doctoral student in the FIMM-EMBL/HIIT rotation program. I am finalizing my Master's degree in Bioinformatics, focused on transcription factor binding prediction using DNase-seq data at Aalto University. I also have a business background and experience, including a wide range of business skills, such as financial modeling, auditing and assurance in general, accounting and reporting (primarily IFRS), tax, etc. I am a professional accountant, and member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. In the past, I worked for one of the Big Four auditing firms (surely it was the best out of four), where I was mostly working on IFRS audit engagements. My clients were primarily from oil & gas, energy, and mining industries (with a few exceptions). I hope that my business skills will be useful in my new role, too. I have not yet decided on the exact area of my studies for this PhD programme, and I hope to learn more about different FIMM & HIIT research groups during the rotation period. In my free time, I enjoy ice skating and roller skating, jogging, and sauna.

I am very excited to join FIMM and HIIT, and I am looking forward to start my programme here.



Last updated: 01.11.2016 - 10:33