Kari Alitalo

University of Helsinki

Election Year: 2013
Primary Section: 41, Medical Genetics, Hematology, and Oncology
Secondary Section: 22, Cellular and Developmental Biology
Membership Type: International Member


Dr. Kari Alitalo is a tenured Research Professor of the Finnish Academy of Sciences and Director of the Wihuri Research Institute and the Centre of Excellence on Translational Cancer Biology in the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Helsinki. He was born in Kuopio, Finland in 1952 and obtained MD and PhD from the University of Helsinki in Finland in 1981. He did his posdoctoral studies with Dr. Paul Bornstein in University of Washinton in Seattle, followed by a postdoctoral period with Drs. Michael Bishop and Harold Varmus in University of California in San Francisco. He was appointed as Professor of Medical Biochemistry in Finland in 1986, Research Professor of the Finnish Cancer Institute in 1987, Professor of Cancer Biology in 1988 and Research Professor of the Finnish Academy of Sciences in 1993. He served as the Director of the Molecular/Cancer Biology Research Program starting from 1999, Academy of Finland Center of Excellence in Cancer Biology from 2000, and in his curernt positions since 2013.

Research Interests

Dr. Alitalo is best known for his work on oncogenes and mechanisms of angiogenesis. He discovered lymphangiogenesis its regulation by growth factors, receptors and signaling mechanisms. He has isolated and characterized several tyrosine kinases including the endothelial receptor tyrosine kinase Tie1, which is related to the Tie2 receptor for angiopoietins and implicated in tumor angiogenesis. He cloned the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) receptor-3, purified and cloned its ligand VEGF-C, and showed that the VEGF-C/VEGFR-3 pathway is required for angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis. He was also central in the cloning and characterization of the VEGF-B. His laboratory is curerntly studying its function as a coronary vascular growth factor and metabolic regulator in the heart. Studies in his laboratory have demonstrated VEGF-C induced tumor angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis, intralymphatic tumor growth, and VEGF-C association with tumor metastasis and its inhibition by blocking the VEGFR-3 signal transduction pathway. The inhibitors of these pathways from his laboratory have now entered phase I clinical trials. He is also interested in molecular therapies for lymphedema, which are entering clinical trials. Recent work in his laboratory heve also led to studies of the homeobox transcription factor Prox1 in colon carcinoma stem cells and tumor progression.

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