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Young Investigator: Q&A with Roope Kallionpää about NF1 and cancer risk

The Young Investigator Award (YIA) provides two-year salary support to early-career NF researchers to help them get established as independent NF investigators. Since its inception, several YIAs have made groundbreaking research findings and notable publications through this program, and many have advanced to become leaders in the NF research and clinical communities.

We’re pleased to introduce some of these researchers from the latest class of awardees: Roope Kallionpää (University of Turku, Finland) shares how this YIA-funded project focuses improving available tools for managing cancer risk in NF1

Man with glasses wearing a blue patterned shirt against a neutral background.What are you hoping to learn from this project?

NF1 increases the risk for various cancers, and cancers are a major cause of premature mortality among individuals with NF1. My project aims to describe the cancer risks and disease characteristics typical for NF1. The analysis of multiple primary cancers among individuals with NF1 will elucidate whether the history of a certain cancer indicates a higher risk for a new cancer. Studying the role of family history of cancer in NF1 will also help to predict the future risk for cancer. The identification of such associations may allow targeted screening approaches to detect cancers at an earlier stage. The survival after breast cancer has been reported to be worse among women with NF1 than among women without NF1, and the project aims to find out why this is the case in order to identify approaches to improve the prognosis.

What are your long-term research goals?

I hope to improve our tools for managing the cancer risk in NF1 by gathering evidence that may help to anticipate the risk, and finding out about the roles of, e.g., age, sex and family history. This information can aid the design of strategies for the prevention, screening and early detection of cancers in NF1. For example, our previous results on the breast cancer risk in NF1 have, together with studies from other research groups, contributed to the screening recommendations for women with NF1. At the same time, understanding the features specific to NF1-associated cancers can suggest new therapeutic approaches.

What brought you to the NF research field?

I initially joined the Peltonen laboratory in the University of Turku as a summer intern. After finishing my master’s degree elsewhere, I returned to the lab for doctoral studies. I was fascinated by the combination of laboratory-based basic science, epidemiology and clinical medicine in this research group. It is evident that NF1-related research is much needed, and it is therefore highly motivating to work in the NF field.

What do you like to do when you’re not in the lab?

I renovate an old house, and I also like gardening.

What does it mean to you to receive this funding from CTF?

The YIA granted by CTF is crucial for my research career. The funding allowed me to continue working with NF1 research after finishing my PhD, and the length of the funding period enables fully focusing on the research. It is encouraging that CTF considered the project suitable for funding, and this trust further motivates me to work hard to increase our knowledge of NF1.

Learn more about our latest investments in young investigators; click here for NF1 projects and click here for SWN projects (including NF2-related schwannomatosis). Click here to learn more about funding opportunities, including the Young Investigator Awards, from the Children’s Tumor Foundation.