The overall aim of my latest research project is to be able to understand and characterize the complex interaction between neoplastic process, gut microbiota and immune system in pediatric cancer patients. This characterization will be translated for individual therapy planning and selection of potential immune modifiers in clinics. Also, the findings will be used to identify suitable biomarkers and novel biological therapeutics and molecular targets in pediatric cancer.

The summary of the research plan

Immune-based therapies including systemic delivery of cytokines, adoptive transfer of tumor cell specific cytotoxic lymphocytes, or administration of immune checkpoint inhibitors are increasingly used in adult cancer patients. In pediatric oncology, however, immune response modifiers are not so frequently applied in clinical practice. This may be related to the significantly better outcomes of most pediatric patients with application of conventional therapies than in adults. As a consequence, in most pediatric cancers little is known about the interactions between the evolving cancer and the immune system. Interestingly, gut microbiota has a significant role in fine tuning the immunity and influences of solid organ transplantation and on the outcome of cytostatic therapies. In this study, we aim to obtain new and necessary information about the identity, phenotype, and abundance of circulating immune cells in pediatric cancer patients and relate the results to those of the gut microbiota. The results will enable clinical application of immunological therapeutics. During the study blood and stool samples will be collected from leukemia, neuroblastoma, sarcoma and brain tumor patients, representing the most common types of cancer patients in children. Immune cell function (blood), cytokine concentrations (serum), inflammatory biomarkers from tumors (fine needle biopsies), qualitative and quantitative bacterial content of stool and other inflammation associated biomarkers will be analyzed and correlated with each other and the disease type and stage. The results will be related with the response to primary treatment and in relapsed cases with response to experimental immunological therapeutics. Successful outcome of this study will eventually lead to clinical trials of immunotherapeutics in patients with pediatric malignancies.

The above mentioned project is in the beginning phase and for the present it is not possible to recruit any research patients for the study.

In addition, I have been involved in clinical testing of rapid point-of-care Group A Streptococcus test. The background is that doctors are ordering much too many antibiotic treatments for their patients. In order to reduce the prescriptions the diagnostics of respiratory diseases should be easier, more rapid and sensitive. It would also be  important for doctors to be aware of the local and updated epidemiological situation. At Mehiläinen Töölö we have an on-going project together with docent Kristina Hotakainen and ArcDia Ltd in which we are trying to promote various kind of actions by which the diagnostic workflow would be more rapid and accurate and would be accepted also by patients. The project is partially funded by TEKES.