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Dr. Essi Havula joins Medaffcon – Bridging science with healthcare
Dr. Essi Havula has done an impressive international career as a researcher and top scientist. She joins Medaffcon team to strengthen the scientific possibilities of utilizing real-world-data and evidence.
Looking back, there could hardly have been any other career choice for Dr. Essi Havula.
“My mother is a biologist, and my grandparents are biologists. I grew up surrounded by discussions on nature, biology, and natural sciences,” Havula recalls.
Although she initially considered studying geography, a particularly inspiring biology class in high school changed everything.
“I vividly remember the page in my biology book when I realized how gene sequencing works. That was my ‘aha’ moment.”
This revelation led Havula to pursue a bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, followed by a master’s degree in genetics from the University of Helsinki in 2009. She continued her academic journey as a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of Biotechnology at the same university.
Focus on sugar metabolism
Her research centered around how cells utilize sugar. In particular, she focused on the role of the transcriptional regulator ChREBP/Mondo in this process. Havula used fruit flies in her research, as their metabolism is highly conserved, meaning that the same genes regulate sugar metabolism in both flies and humans.
Through her research, Havula identified that a single gene, ChREBP/Mondo is essential for our bodies to properly use and store sugars. This knowledge can be necessary for understanding and managing conditions related to sugar metabolism, like obesity and diabetes. She completed her Ph.D. with distinction in 2017.
Dr. Havula had spent a year as an exchange student in Sydney, Australia and always wanted to return. A chance meeting with Professor Stephen Simpson at a conference in China suddenly opened the door to a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Sydney.
“It was a perfect match for me, as the research focus was on metabolism and personalized healthcare,” Havula says.
Working in Australia also introduced Havula to a different funding landscape. “In Australia, private funding, even from individuals, is not uncommon, which differs from Finland where funding for fundamental research is more limited.”
Research on mitochondrial disorders
After over three and a half years in Australia, Havula returned to Finland as a full-time researcher at the University of Helsinki, joining the research team of the Academy Professor Anu Suomalainen-Wartiovaara. Here Havula was able to continue her interest in studying diseases and developing better treatments to help patients.
The still ongoing Suomalainen-Wartiovaara research project focuses on mitochondrial disorders. These disorders can affect people differently, so the same treatment does not work for everyone. As part of different research groups and collaborations during her career, Havula has published several peer reviewed articles on sugar metabolism and natural variation on sugar tolerance.
In addition to her research, Dr. Havula has served as a presenter at the Board for Gene Technology, acting as a liaison between industry and the academic world and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in Finland. The board observes the legality of the utilization of genetically modified organisms in Finland.
In September 2023, Dr. Havula assumed the role of scientific advisor at Medaffcon. While some might wonder about her shift from academia to the private sector, it is not a black or white question, Essi Havula assures. She says the motivation and goal in both fields are exactly the same: benefit patients and help their care.
“It’s definitely a soft transition and one that I am looking forward to exploring further.”
At Medaffcon, Havula leverages her research skills to delve into real-world data (RWD) and real-world evidence (RWE). Her strengths lie in critical thinking and processing large volumes of information efficiently. Dr. Havula’s role is to act as a point of contact for the customers and register holders. She contributes with epidemiological expertise defining key study questions and analyses together with the research team to meet the customer’s needs. She looks forward to close cooperation with the Medaffcon customers.
Enhancing patient outcomes
Havula’s objective is to be part of broader research endeavors that employ real-world data to address specific healthcare inquiries. This work contributes significantly to evidence-based healthcare decision-making, ultimately enhancing patient outcomes.
“The challenge lies mostly in deciding what amount of information is really needed to answer the key questions. As a scientist, I know there are no limits to how deep you can dive”, she sums up.
Essi joined Medaffcon in September 2023. Essi holds a PhD in biosciences and in her thesis she studied the genetics of sugar metabolism. After completing her pre- and postgraduate studies at the University of Helsinki, she transferred internationally to continue to study gene-diet interactions at the University of Sydney. Spanning over 15 years, Essi’s scientific career includes research in numerous fields including breast cancer and mitochondrial diseases.
Essi’s strengths include broad scientific and international background with special interests in personalized medicine, metabolic diseases and science popularization. At Medaffcon, Essi is particularly motivated by the utilization and communication of RWE studies to support better decision-making in our patient care and more broadly for our healthcare sector.
“Data driven decision making requires us as experts to process and communicate the vast amounts of data into a form that is accessible to all healthcare authorities. I’m looking forward to seeing how RWE studies can guide the development of personalized therapy solutions, that are not only economically the most efficient, but benefit the patients in the best possible manner.”