Minttu Kansikas, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer of LS CancerDiag, is one of the inventors of the method behind the DiagMMR test. She has been inspired by genetics since high school.
She has enjoyed the field ever since, first as a student and currently as a leadership team member of our company. Understanding the heredity of cancer and, through research, helping the Lynch syndrome families is Minttu’s strongest source of motivation at work. The company’s research team she leads just published a peer-reviewed article on the test, based on the team’s multi-year work, to validate the test’s potential to improve cancer prevention and prediction.
Minttu became interested in genetics in high school while completing the IB diploma programme, after which she continued to Bristol for a bachelor’s degree at the University of the West of England.
I don’t really know why, but in high school, I became interested in genetics. I saw an ad about Professor Leena Peltonen-Palotie’s lecture on the genetics of lactose intolerance, which I went to listen to, and found so inspiring that I knew I wanted to pursue studies in genetics. During my bachelor’s degree, I was inspired by cancer genetics.
After her bachelor’s degree, Minttu returned to Finland to continue her studies. Minttu had lived in different countries up to that point, with breaks of a few years. Still, she wanted to study cancer genetics, specifically in Finland. The timing turned out to be a lucky coincidence.
During my bachelor’s studies, I had thought a lot about the genetics of cancer, and I wanted to look for backgrounds and explanations for the hereditary causes of it. I completed my postgraduate degrees in Professor Nyström’s group at a good time when the group was taking key steps with their MMR breakthrough. I had the opportunity to partake in the research which led to the opportunity to be involved as a co-inventor of the method that is the basis of DiagMMR. I started in Minna’s group as a researcher of the MMR mechanism and continued my doctoral research, mostly focused on identifying Lynch syndrome.
After her dissertation, Minttu started immediately working at the newly founded LS CancerDiag, her tasks being the optimization and commercialization of the method. Over the years, Minttu’s title has changed as the company has developed. Minttu started as Director of Research and Marketing at the company, focusing on research and interaction with the scientific community. During these years, Minttu wanted to increase her commercial experience by completing a practical marketing-focused BBA degree in Haaga-Helia.
Today, Minttu is the Chief Scientific Officer and is responsible for laboratory operations and product development as part of the leadership team. She is the only one within the current operational staff who has been in the company since the beginning.
It has been great to grow with the company. I have been involved since the beginning and have had the chance to experience many roles. This has been a truly unique experience: all years have been different, and I have worked with many different people at different stages of our growth. In a start-up company, everyone gets to contribute inside and outside their own role.
Start-up life offers a lot of freedom and opportunities, and Minttu sees it as the perfect work environment for her.
Constant change fits me well. The funny thing is that, in general, I wouldn’t really describe myself as a risk-taker. But, in terms of the content of the work, I find constant change stimulating. However, of course, uncertainty always is the downside for constant change, which one must be able to tolerate.
For the future, Minttu has several projects underway and plenty of ideas. She is currently leading projects to optimize and automatize the test, and to add new cancer susceptibility genes to strengthen its comprehensiveness and scalability. In addition, the team’s article on validating the DiagMMR test was published in March after solid groundwork, with Minttu as the leading author.
The validation study was an important multi-year project. We demonstrated through real samples and practical measurements that the test works. Overall, the study was meaningful and after successful validation it was followed up by a clinical pilot. The pilot indicated that the test added value in several situations where there were suspicions of an inherited MMR defect but no certainty. For the tested individuals, the repair mechanism’s function could be examined in a new way thanks to the nature of the method: the mechanism either works normally or doesn’t, and no personal background information or medical history is needed to find out.
Minttu’s most important motivation for continuing research and test development is in real people and patients benefitting from cancer research. She hopes to help Lynch syndrome families, where cancer susceptibility can be widespread and significantly affect illness risk. Through the DiagMMR test, LS families can be identified, diagnosed, and clinically supported on time.
The test offers a valuable additional tool for individuals and entities treating cancer. Helping people and families is the biggest motivation for me to continue my work in research and development. I also hope that through my work, I can encourage others to explore innovations that can improve the world, even if a little at a time.
References: Kansikas, M., Vähätalo, L., Kantelinen, J., Kasela, M., Putula, J., Døhlen, A., … & Nyström, M. (2023). Tumor-independent detection of inherited mismatch repair deficiency for the diagnosis of Lynch syndrome with high specificity and sensitivity. Cancer research communications, 3(3), 361–370. https://doi.org/10.1158/2767-9764.CRC-22-0384.