Fumi Suomi

University of Helsinki, researcher

Dr. Fumi Suomi has since 2015 worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki. We asked her to introduce her research and her experience in Finland.

What are you currently researching in Finland?

My research target is mitochondria, which are in charge of energy production and many other roles in a cell, including production of biosynthetic intermediates and stress response. Mutations in the genes encoding mitochondrial proteins cause many human diseases including neurodegenerative diseases. Interestingly, organelle shapes look different in mitochondrial disease patient cells compared to those in healthy cells. I’m particularly interested in the tight link in the shape and function of mitochondria in response to cellular need or stress. To maintain the healthy condition in cells, damaged mitochondria are recognized by quality control systems and turned over. Currently I’m working on a model which illuminates mitochondrial shape and turnover status by fluorescent signals, aiming to uncover the molecular mechanism behind mitochondrial homeostasis in health and disease.

How did you get interested in your research subject?

My research interest on the dynamic morphology of mitochondria arose during my Ph.D. study on mitochondrial fatty acid synthesis. This pathway is highly conserved from yeast to human. When any part of this pathway is disrupted, tubular structure of mitochondria goes fragmented. The morphological variety of this organelle is observed in healthy tissues as well. In heart muscle, where continuous energy production is needed, mitochondria look highly dense compared to other tissues. How does it sense the need to change the shape in response to cellular need or stress? How is the dysfunction of the organelle recognized? What is the machinery involved in the mitochondrial membrane dynamics? Answering these questions will lead to the development of therapeutics of human diseases, and also, understanding the base of biology.

Why did you choose your current institution to conduct your research?

During my Ph.D. study in University of Oulu, I had a chance to attend a lecture given by Professor Anu Suomalainen-Wartiovaara from University of Helsinki. Her talk about mitochondrial disease and the way she approached the problem fascinated me to the mitochondrial biology field. Biomedicum Helsinki and Institute of Biotechnology in University of Helsinki conducts mitochondrial research that is highly recognized in this field. Currently, Centre of Excellence in Research on Mitochondria, Metabolism and Disease (FinMIT), funded by the Academy of Finland, is led by many research groups focused on a variety of problems in mitochondrial biology. McWilliams Lab was established in 2018 in Helsinki and I joined the team in the early stage of the establishment of the lab. Research in this lab is focused on the understanding of the quality control of mitochondria, termed mitophagy in neural development, and degeneration and repair. Overall, University of Helsinki is a dream place for a “mitochondriac”: a biochemist with a chronic and unusually intense interest in mitochondria: by Oxford Dictionary.

What has been the most challenging aspects of your research so far?

In conducting research in molecular biology field, there are multiple ways to answer your question. Research is increasingly competitive, therefore, you need to ask the right question and solve the question in a limited time. Quite often your experiment gives an answer which you did not expect before, which gives you another problem to solve. This is the fun and challenging part in research.

Compared to Japan, what is your impression of the research environment in Finland?

I think I made a good choice to conduct research in Finland as a female researcher. This country is well aware of gender equality compared to Japan, which is well reflected in social support for example. I’m currently working in a team called WILS in University of Helsinki, Women In Life Science in Helsinki. I’m interested in how Finland established the current status in gender equality and how this can be achieved in Japan.

Do you have any advice for young scientists who dream of going to Finland to do research?

To any young scientist, I recommend to go abroad and this does not matter where you are going. Living in a different culture opens your eyes, which will be reflected in your research career in the future. Finnish research institutes are international and as a researcher, it is not difficult to live without being fluent in Finnish. Most of you may be afraid of cold weather in winter, however, houses are well insulated and warm and comfortable. I am rather reluctant to go back to Japan in wintertime because of coldness inside of the house. If you want to explore white and snowy winter, if you want to join quiet but humorous people, as you may see from Moomin books, Finland is the place to live.

(November, 2019)
Academic background

2000 B.S, Faculty of Chemistry, Materials and Bioengineering, Kansai University, Osaka, Japan

2002 M.S., Institute for Chemical Research (ICR), Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan

2012 Ph.D., Faculty of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland

2012-2013 Postdoctoral researcher, Biocenter Oulu, Department of Biochemistry, University of Oulu

2013-2015 Postdoctoral researcher, Biocenter Oulu, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland

2015-2018 Postdoctoral researcher, Faculty of Medicine, Research Program for Molecular Neurology, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

2018- Postdoctoral researcher, Faculty of Medicine, Research Program for Stem Cells and Metabolism, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland