“Marja Jäättelä’s work has two central goals. One is to increase understanding of the mechanisms that control a certain kind of cell death that cancer cells are often vulnerable to; it is pure research. The other is how research results translate into benefits for patients; for example, how the results contribute to developing new treatment methods.”
»The reason that I have these goals is down to one question that I asked very early on in my career: why don’t cancer cells die, and how can we make them die? I always made that question control the direction of my research, rather than what I can do technically. The technical aspects control a lot because when you have developed advanced systems and skills, then, of course, it is natural to use them.«
“This idea about how technical superiority can be limited is illustrated in a description of something that, at first, seemed like a tragedy to Marja Jäättelä: a severe flood in the basement of the Danish Cancer Society during a big cloudburst in Copenhagen in 2011 destroyed a number of big tanks with frozen cell cultures, thereby destroying years of work. It forced her to reconsider her priorities. She decided to invest in a technique called “lipidomics,” which are detailed analyses of the content in fat molecules found in different cell types.”
»And why so? Because I thought that it was necessary for the question. This underlines once again the idea that I always had: my research has to be controlled by questions, not methods. I can get the methods needed to answer questions that I consider central – but when you build methods for 20 years, then you are locked in. In the basement, all of my cells were stored and suddenly they were filled with water and everything was destroyed – so, in a way it was liberating to lose it all.«
You can read the full portrait of Professor Marja Jäättelä (in Danish) by downloading the chapter below.