Sarita Panula, PhD

Sarita Panula_Member_Spotlight2018

Kauhajoki, Finland

Current Residence
Stockholm, Sweden

Graduate Degree
PhD in Medical Science

Current Position
Postdoc, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?

My research focus is to study pluripotency in early human development, using in vitro cultured preimplantation and postimplantation human embryos as well as pluripotent stem cells. I enjoy the challenges caused by the limited and precious samples when all experiments need to be carefully planned and data yield maximized. Very little is known about early postimplanted human embryos and the most rewarding thing is that we learn something new with every experiment.

What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

I really enjoyed human biology in high school, but since I never wanted to become a medical doctor and I wasn’t aware of the possibility to study medical science, I ended up in university with a major in mathematics. I quickly realized, however, that it wasn’t for me and luckily I found a new exciting program in biotechnology. At the time when we had to choose a Master’s project, I heard that Outi Hovatta was starting a stem cell research unit at my university. I contacted her immediately and got to do my project on stem cells. That was in 2005 and I have been working with stem cells ever since.

What is the most exciting aspect of your work?

The best thing is the possibility to constantly learn more! Whether it’s learning about the research subject, new techniques, or getting to know new people, the stem cell field is moving so fast that every day offers something new.

What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?

Be active in expanding your science network from early on, for example, through collaborations and social events, and use the contacts of your contacts to get an internship or a new position. 

But most importantly, listen to your heart and follow your passion, it will lead you to the right way.

Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?

There are two strong, amazing women that I am fortunate to have as mentors: Outi Hovatta, who introduced me to the field of stem cells and then later became my PhD supervisor, and Renee Reijo Pera who trusted me with a lot of responsibilities and encouraged me to pursue this career.

How do you spend your free time?

Most of my time outside the lab I spend with my husband and our 2-year old daughter. In my free time I go to the gym or play floorball.

What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

I like to listen to melodic heavy metal with my headphones when I have to concentrate working on the bench. 

What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?

The ISSCR annual meetings offer a great comprehensive overview of where the stem cell field is going and always offers a great opportunity to catch up with old friends. As a member of the Junior Investigator Committee, I know that the ISSCR organization is doing a great job in trying to reach all members, during the annual meetings and also around the year with newsletters, career development videos, the job board, and much more.


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