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CAR NK cell development

Natural killer (NK) cells are potent effector lymphocytes with cytotoxic effect against several malignancies.

iCell researchers in laboratory.

We consider that their potency and usefulness could be further improved if they were targeted to tumors using CARs and if they could be produced in large numbers. Our projects aim at improving the efficacy of genetic modification of NK cells, creating novel NK-specific CARs, and enhancing CAR NK cell expansion.


Docent Matti Korhonen, MD, PhD

Docent Matti Korhonen’s background is in pediatrics, with 10 years’ clinical experience in pediatric hemato-oncology and stem cell transplantation. His research converges on the development and clinical translation of cell therapies. The Advanced Cell Therapy Center (at the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service) was set up under his leadership in 2009-12. He also led the development and clinical translation of its first cell therapy product, mesenchymal stem cells (Salmenniemi et al, Br Med J 2017). 

Currently Dr. Korhonen’s research team focuses on the genetic modification of immune cells for cancer therapy, where they have explored novel culture conditions for CAR T-cells, combining CAR T-cells with small molecule drugs, and developed proprietary chimeric antigen receptors.

Helka Göös, PhD

Helka received her MSc and BSc degrees from the University of Eastern Finland in 2011. During her master´s thesis she was studying the nuclear receptor signaling, especially signaling of the vitamin D receptor. After that she moved to Helsinki to do her PhD under the supervision of docent Markku Varjosalo in the Systems Biology research group and Proteomics Unit of Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki. The aim of her PhD thesis was to study the protein-protein interactions of human transcription factors. Her thesis also included characterization of the molecular mechanisms behind primary immunodeficiencies caused by transcription factor mutations. 

Helka’s current project as post-doctoral researcher in iCell is the development of CAR NK-cells. The future aim is to develop CAR NK-cells targeting solid tumors. 

Mira Saari, MSc

Mira is a PhD candidate working on CAR NK-cell project in the Blood Service’s iCELL group. She received her Master’s degree in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Jyväskylä, where she studied bacteriophage therapy and monoamine oxidase inhibition. After graduation, she has done research on CAR T-cell therapies against solid tumors in Seppo Ylä-Herttuala’s Molecular Medicine group at the University of Eastern Finland. Currently Mira is doing her PhD in the University of Eastern Finland, while working at the Blood Service in CAR NK-cell therapies. At the Blood Service, her research focuses on developing novel feeder cells for robust clinical scale NK-cell expansion.

Emmi Tiilikainen, MSc

Emmi is a biomedical engineer with a background in stem cell and lymphatics research. She did her engineering thesis from 3D cultured intestinal stem cells and master’s thesis on the endothelial cell arrangement of lymphatic networks. In iCell, she works as a research technician in the NK and CAR-NK projects.