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Speaker profile: Jari Louhelainen

Busting Common Myths About Quantitative PCR & Digital PCR

With many years experience in both cancer research and forensics, we spoke to Associate Professor of Biochemistry Jari Louhelainen about his career so far and what he thinks the future holds for molecular biology.

I was determined to do a degree in biochemistry. However, I was offered a PhD position focused on DNA where I had to establish a new DNA lab. Within a year, I was fully immersed in all things DNA. I analysed cancer samples, the DNA status of those deletions and mutations amongst other things.

Afterwards, I moved to cancer research in the UK. I was actually a day late in applying for the job, but luckily, they hadn’t found anyone they wanted for the job yet as it was exactly what I wanted to do. I was there for six years.

Now in my current position in Liverpool, we are very strong in sports and forensic science. Both use the same methods as cancer research, so I was able to expand my portfolio by collaborating with sports scientists and forensic scientists. Some of my skills in cancer genetics have been useful on the forensic science side, so that has been interesting.

My research

At the Congress today, I showed the practical problems that I encounter regularly. I am involved in medical and forensic samples and the problem is these samples can be degraded and can be very low concentration or low copy number, so I showed data from new kits and how we validate them for archaeological use.

I also showed properties of some inhibitors which took us by surprise – we didn’t get inhibition and then found one compound which had a particularly high inhibition and then a third compound where we noticed that actually very low concentration enhances the reaction, the opposite of what we thought. I also shared details of meta development for FDA cards to be used in haematology and the areas of bacteria profiling with qPCR. It can be useful in drowning cases, for example in determining if someone was drowned in a bathtub instead of the sea.

Looking to the future

Starting with the medicine we have at present, we have circulating tumour cells, which are a popular topic for discussion at the moment. I have a feeling that we can’t detect early cancers with that technology, but we’ll see how effective the methods get in the future.

On the other hand, we have personalised medicine coming up quickly, so sequencing persons individually, quickly, and cheaply might help at least with rare diseases and hereditary disease.

There should be funding for looking at the actual causes more than the cure. The cure and treatments are driven by the medical industry and drug companies. I think that’s slightly skewed in the wrong direction, but what can we do?

The effects of Brexit

In principle, I would have to go back to my home country. I’m quite sceptical that the current Brexit deal will go through, but the first thing we will see is that anything imported from Europe will be more expensive.

Then we have the problem with people, if you start looking at, not just research labs, but company labs, hospital labs, there are lots of people who work there who are not British citizens, so we might lose a large percentage of an intelligent workforce in that sense. There’s no one coming back. That would be a major blow to the industry.

Jari Louhelainen
is Associate Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Helsinki. He presented at the recent 4BIO Summit: Europe on the evaluation of PCR/qPCR inhibitors.

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