Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD

Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD

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Full Member, Population Sciences in the Pacific (Cancer Epidemiology), University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center
Faculty Co-Director, Genomics and Bioinformatics Shared Resource

Academic Appointment(s):
Associate Specialist (Associate Professor), University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Graduate Faculty, Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

PhD, Analytical and Clinical Biochemistry, University of Helsinki, Finland
MS, Biochemistry, University of Helsinki, Finland
Post-Doctoral Training, Cancer Genomics, UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center

Research Focus

Cancer is a disease of the Genome. Recent developments in Genomics have provided ground-breaking advances in the characterization of the genomic and epigenomic changes in a wide range of cancers. Dr. Tiirikainen's main interest is in the Cancer Genome and the fast developing area of Genomics, including developing methodologies for nucleic acid profiling in different sample types, such as unfixed and fixed tissues, cells, plasma, serum, and other body fluids. Her special area of interest is the liquid biopsy application of circulating nucleic acids; DNA, RNA and miRNA, for diagnostic and prognostic purposes, and as markers of the tumor response to therapy.

Dr. Tiirikainen collaborates with several investigators from different UH Cancer Center programs. With investigators in the Cancer Epidemiology program, especially on studies utilizing the biospecimen in the Multiethnic Cohort, she has been developing research strategies for characterization of genomic and epigenomic cancer susceptibility variants which may be race/ethnicity-dependent.

Dr. Tiirikainen also collaborates with investigators in the Cancer Biology Program including physician scientists doing translational & clinical research.  For example, Dr. Tiirikainen has been developing methods for quantification and characterization of circulating tumor-derived DNA molecules.

As the Co-Director of the Genomics and Bioinformatics Shared Resource (GBSR), Dr. Tiirikainen provides nucleic acid based analyses for research projects conducted by UH Cancer Center members, supporting the creation and utilization of knowledge on cancer etiology, prevention, and treatments. The services offered by GBSR are: (1) DNA/RNA isolation, plating, and quality analysis, (2) Custom genotyping, (3) Real-Time qPCR-based gene expression, copy number and methylation assays, (4) Pyrosequencing, (5) Affymetrix and Illumina microarray-based assays, (6) Next Generation Sequencing and (7) Consultation.

Dr. Tiirikainen and the GBSR will have an important role in the new U54 grant, awarded for the “Pacific Genome Research Center” among the first 3 “Diversity Centers for Genome Research” (RFA-HG-22-026). As the Co-Leader of the Genomic Workforce Development Core, Dr. Tiirikainen and the GBSR will be providing genomics and bioinformatics courses, lectures, seminars, workshops, and one-on-one training, in order to increase the knowledge and skills of the diverse University of Hawaiʻi (UH) research community in both genomic analysis and bioinformatics, with the ultimate goal to ensure the highest quality of reproducible and rigorous genomics research at UH and UH Cancer Center.

Selected Publications

Yang, WS, Caliva MJ, Khadka VS, Tiirikainen M, Matter M, Deng Y, Ramos, JW. RSK1 and RSK2 serine/threonine kinases regulate different transcription programs in cancer. January 2023. Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology 10:1015665 DOI: 10.3389/fcell.2022.1015665. PMID: 36684450, PMCID: PMC9845784.

Streicher SA, Lim U, Park SL, Li, Y, Sheng X, Hom V, Xia L, Pooler L, Shepherd J, Loo LWM., Ernst T, Buchthal S, Franke AA, Tiirikainen M, Wilkens LR, Haiman CA, Stram DO, Cheng I, Le Marchand L. Genome-wide association study of abdominal MRI-measured visceral fat: The multiethnic cohort adiposity phenotype study. PLoS One. 2023 Jan 6;18(1):e0279932. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0279932. PMID: 36607984, PMCID: PMC9821421.

Wang Z, Budhu AS, Shen Y, Wong LL, Hernandez BY, Tiirikainen M, Ma X, Irwin ML, Lu L, Zhao HY, Lim JK, Taddei T, Mishra L, Pawlish K, Stroup A, Brown R, Nguyen MH, Koshiol J, Hernandez MO, Forgues M, Yang HI, Lee MH, Huang YH, Iwasaki M, Goto A, Suzuki S, Matsuda K, Tanikawa C, Kamatani Y, Mann D, Guarnera M, Shetty K, Thomas CE, Yuan JM, Khor CC, Koh WP, Risch H, Wang XW, Yu H. Genetic Susceptibility to Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Chromosome 22q13.31, findings of a genome-wide association study. JGH Open, 2021 Nov 27;5(12):1363-1372. doi: 10.1002/jgh3.12682. PMID: 34950780; PMCID: PMC8674550.

Song MA, Seffernick AE, Archer KJ, Mori KM, Park SY, Chang L, Ernst TM, Tiirikainen M, Peplowska K, Wilkens LR, Le Marchand L, Lim U. (2021). Race-Associated Blood DNA Methylation Differences Between Japanese and European American Women: An Exploratory Study. Clin Epigenetics;Oct 11;13(1):188. DOI: 10.1186/s13148-021-01171-w. PMID: 34635168, PMCID: PMC8507376.

Kwee SA, Tiirikainen M. (2021). Beta-catenin activation and immunotherapy resistance in hepatocellular carcinoma: mechanisms and biomarkers. Hepatoma Res;7:8. DOI: 10.20517/2394-5079.2020.124. PMID: 33553649, PMCID: PMC7861492.

Publication list via PubMed

Active Grants

M. Tiirikainen, Co-Leader; L. Wu/Y. Deng, MPI
1U54 HG013243
"Pacific Center for Genome Research: Genomic Workforce Development Core"
09/15/2023 – 05/31/2028

M. Tiirikainen, Co-Investigator; I. Cheng/L. Park, MPI
1R01 CA262540
"Understanding the role of structural racism on racial/ethnic inequities in lung cancer risk"
04/01/2022 – 03/30/2027

M. Tiirikainen, Co-Investigator; L. Wu L/C. Wu, MPI
1R01 CA263494
"Uncovering causal protein markers to improve prostate cancer etiology understanding and risk prediction in Africans and Europeans"
04/01/2022 – 03/30/2027

M. Tiirikainen, Co-Investigator; S. Kwee, PI
1R01 CA255087
"Evaluation of Treatment Predictors Reflecting Beta-catenin Activation in Hepatocellular Carcinoma"
07/01/2021 – 06/30/2026

M. Tiirikainen, Co-Investigator; L. Park/L. Loo, MPI
5R01 MD014862
"Comprehensive molecular characterization of lung cancers in five racial/ethnic groups with disparate risk"
02/28/2020 – 12/31/2024

M. Tiirikainen, Co-Investigator; Y. Deng, PI
5R01 CA230514
"Circulating Lipid and miRNA Markers for Early Detection of Breast Cancer among Women with Abnormal Mammogram"
08/08/2019 – 07/31/2024

M. Tiirikainen, Co-Investigator (subcontract); S. Hecht, PI
P01 CA138338
"Mechanisms of Ethnic Differences in Lung Cancer Due to Cigarette Smoking"
09/21/2016 – 04/31/2027

M. Tiirikainen, PI
Hawaii Community Foundation
"GENETIC DISPARITIES IN COVID-19: Role of Genetic Differences Explaining Health Disparities in COVID-19"
12/01/2020 – 08/31/2023