Hanna Mikkola is a member of the ISEH board of directors. She is a professor at UCLA in the Department of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology. Dr. Mikkola has been a member of ISEH for 10 years and has in the past she has held positions within the Nominations committee, Finance committee, and Scientific Planning Committee. Her area of expertise is in developmental hematopoiesis, HSC transcriptional, and niche regulation.
How did you find your way to the hematology and stem cells scientific field?
Growing up is was afraid of (and simultaneously fascinated about) leukemia. I went to med school to become a hematologist, but found that the current treatment strategies and our knowledge of the disease was insufficient to provide proper care for the patients. I called in to the hematology lab in University of Helsinki and told them I wanted to cure leukemia. They offered a position to study inherited blood coagulation disorders, which I accepted, and that became my PhD project. However, during my post-doctoral training, I was eager to move closer to the “cure for leukemia” and started to study hematopoietic stem cells.
What is the most exciting study or project happening at your lab/facility?
Our goal is to understand how to make a self-renewing human hematopoietic stem cell. We have worked hard to identify the sites where HSCs are made, markers to isolate them, culture protocols to maintain their unique properties, and to identify key regulatory mechanisms that govern the identity and function of human HSCs. We finally have clues to the underlying molecular defects that prevent the self-renewal of candidate HSCs that were generated in vitro or expanded in culture. We hope that harnessing these powerful regulators to enable human HSC self-renewal in culture will help provide new sources of HSCs for transplantation.
What advice do you have for new investigators entering this scientific field?
Go after your passion, and do not worry too much in advance about potential failures. The successful scientists are not those for who everything was easy (they don't exist) but those who did not care about rejections and failed grant applications, who kept trying again and never stopped believing in their dreams.
What do you find most valuable about ISEH?
ISEH is a true community for those interested in hematopoiesis and stem cells. I value especially their dedication to promote young scientists, for example by having a prestigious plenary session for trainee presentations, and for providing many other opportunities for networking with peers and leaders in the field. I find that the ISEH annual meeting is perhaps the most valuable meeting where to send my trainees.
Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting?
I have attended the ISEH meeting every year since I started my own lab in 2005. It is the highlight of the year to meet colleagues and hear about the new trends in the field. Especially for those interested in developmental hematopoiesis, ISEH provides much more than other hematopoiesis/stem cell conferences.
What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?
In 2013, I was awarded the McCulloch and Till award, and the award lecture was the last item in the meeting program. I was so nervous that everyone would have headed home already and I would be speaking for an empty audience. It was so wonderful to see a full lecture hall, and so many friends and colleagues who came to congratulate and tell me that they stayed until the end specifically to listen to my lecture. I was so grateful for the incredible support from ISEH community.
What are your hobbies?
Riding Dressage, I have four horses and they take most of my free time (and money).
What are your favorite books?
Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
If you could meet one person (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
This is a big question that would require some thought. However, my first instinct was to say Tina Turner. She is a true power woman with incredible talent and stamina!