Six Months after Country Hopping to Switzerland: Master’s thesis is submitted!

Hello again everybody!

This is Rosa López again updating you about my internship as a HiLIFE Research Trainee! As you may remember (or not, please click here for the previous blog post 🙂 ) I used this scholarship to carry out my Master’s thesis as an international student at EPFL located in Lausanne (Switzerland). After six months of tough learning and hard work, I am delighted to inform you that my thesis is finished! In this blog post, I want to explain to you how the whole process ended, from the first experiments to the thesis submission. So, let’s dig in!

What was my thesis about? How was it performed?

As a quick recap of the previous blog post ( 😀 ), my Master’s thesis was performed at the Laboratory of Stem Cell Bioengineering (LSCB)1. This lab, led by Prof. Matthias Lütolf, aims to develop third-generation organoids from stem cells by using innovative bioengineering strategies. One of the research lines focuses on the development of homeostatic human gastric third-generation organoids from human biopsies since this current organoid model contains several limitations2. This project is being conducted by Moritz Hofer, a PhD student in LSCB and my supervisor throughout my whole thesis. So, you may ask: Rosa, what was your Master’s thesis about?

The main aim of my thesis was to test the effect of different extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins on gastric stem cell differentiation. The ECM is currently considered one of the key stem cell niche components3,4. As a matter of fact, several ECM proteins had been already established to have a specific location within the human gastric mucosa. Thus, we wanted to check if these proteins could influence stem cell maintenance or differentiation towards one specific cell type. The main workflow of the project was to seed gastric organoid-derived epithelial cells on the proteins of interest and check for stem cell markers or other gastric epithelial cell markers with quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) after some time.

However, an important question arose right at the beginning of the project: how to perform this experiment? Some solutions could have been coating the seeding plate with the ECM protein of interest or using a mixture of Matrigel® with our ECM protein of interest. However, the former solution did not resemble the biomechanics of the mucosa, whereas the Matrigel® meant a too complex and uncontrollable environment. That is the reason why we decided to use synthetic hydrogels5, whose biomechanical properties can be modelled, and they are enriched only with our ECM proteins of interest. Even though it was a straightforward solution, a major part of the thesis was the bioengineering of synthetic hydrogel. The whole optimization took more than half of the internship! In the end, we were able to obtain preliminary results which showed that indeed some ECM proteins maintain stem cells, whereas others enhance differentiation towards other gastric cell types.

After all the experiments were done there was still one part missing… The whole thesis writing. I guess I am like most students, leaving all the writing towards the end. I would advise you to not do it. Although probably you’ll do the same mistake, so if you’re at that stage at this very moment… good luck!

And now, what is the next chapter?

My internship went on for six months and after I submitted my thesis, I got the Master’s graduation. During this time, I reassure myself what I want to do next: PhD. I still do not know where, but I know for sure that I like stem cell research. In the next months, I will be doing another internship before the PhD focused on the scarring and repair in the central nervous system at Karolinska Institutet. Let’s see how that goes and how it affects my future!



I would like to finish this post by acknowledging all the LSCB team, and specifically thanking Moritz Hofer for all his help and mentoring during this internship. I believe that having good mentoring is essential for success! Also, to all the people that were with me during the whole process, either physically in Switzerland or through the phone. Emotional support is more than necessary to complete a good thesis. Last but not least, thanks to Switzerland for having such breathtaking nature and landscapes. Although long hours in the lab are necessary, having some getaways is as important. I will bless you with some Swiss pics down below 😀

Thank you all for reading! Hope the best for you :3




Some (maybe) interesting links: 

  1. Laboratory of Stem Cell Bioengineering Webpage:
  2. Seidlitz, T., Koo, B. K., & Stange, D. E. (2020). Gastric organoids—an in vitro model system for the study of gastric development and road to personalized medicine. Cell Death & Differentiation, 28(1), 68–83.
  3. Pardo-Saganta, A., Calvo, I. A., Saez, B., & Prosper, F. (2019). Role of the Extracellular Matrix in Stem Cell Maintenance. Current Stem Cell Reports 2019 5:1, 5(1), 1–10.
  4. Rezakhani, S., Gjorevski, N., & Lutolf, M. P. (2021). Extracellular matrix requirements for gastrointestinal organoid cultures. Biomaterials, 276.
  5. Madduma-Bandarage, U. S. K., & Madihally, S. V. (2021). Synthetic hydrogels: Synthesis, novel trends, and applications. Journal of Applied Polymer Science, 138(19), 50376.

When puberty hits you

Hi all,

My name is Linda Helena Müller and I am writing to update you on my HiLIFE Research Traineeship. During the last six months, I have been working on puberty research in the Raivio group at Helsinki University. The time flew by and I am excited to have successfully finished my Master’s thesis project recently. In fact, I just submitted my thesis last month. I used the HiLIFE scholarship to explore a field of research I have not been in contact with before. In my project, I worked in the area of stem cell research and neuroscience. Specifically, I have used the CRISPR/Cas9 system to activate a gene associated with puberty initiation. The traineeship allowed me to improve my skills in the fields of genetics and cell culture. However, I have also learned a lot about other stem cell research areas by attending talks and a retreat of the Stem Cells and Metabolism Research Program at Helsinki University. I am glad to report that the HiLIFE Traineeship completely fulfilled its purpose of exploring a research curiosity of mine.

Being at the end of my Master’s degree, I am now sure that I want to keep following the academic career and enroll in a PhD program after graduation. This traineeship and the methods I have learned were a tremendous help in getting into the PhD program of my choice. I will start my PhD at the EMBL institute later this year and continue in the same research field. Therefore, I am highly thankful to have been chosen as one of the HiLIFE trainees. This research period greatly helped me to orientate on what field I would like to keep working in and allowed me to learn important methods for doing so.

Aside from the academic part, performing this traineeship also gave me the opportunity to further experience life in Helsinki. I have fallen in love with the city and was thrilled to attend this year’s Vappu celebration since it was canceled last year. I even fried Munkit with the help of a Finnish friend. I also added my favorite picture of the Helsinki city center which I took on the night of the Lux light festival – check it out below. I am sad to leave Finland, however, the last months have been an excellent ending to my Master’s studies in Helsinki.

International HiLIFE Trainee: Addicted to Country Hopping

Hello everybody!

My name is Rosa López, and I am delighted to be one of the 2022 HiLIFE Research Trainees. In this post, I would like to introduce who am I and what took me to this life stage, as well as my interest in science and my current research topic. That said, let’s go deep into the matter!

Who am I and how did I arrive at this point?

Me during a not-so-hot summer day in Helsinki

I am a young scientist who graduated in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Barcelona in 2019. However, my last year of the degree did not take place in my hometown since I was granted an Erasmus Scholarship to carry out my final degree project at the University of Helsinki. For nearly a year, I got to study the molecular mechanism of ageing in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, also known as yeast; in Prof. Juha Saarikangas’ laboratory. One year later, when I was already addicted to Helsinki and its landscapes, I got accepted into the Master’s program of Genetics and Molecular Biosciences (GMB) at the University of Helsinki. Within this program, I decided to pursue the Cell and Developmental Biology study track since my main interests lie in stem cell biology, regenerative medicine, and cellular ageing. Several lectures about regulation mechanisms of stem cells were enough to encourage me to search for laboratories whose main research topic was stem cell regulation. This decision led me to my current point, I am a Master’s thesis student at the Laboratory of Stem Cell Bioengineering (LSCB) at EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. I was thrilled when Prof. Matthias Lütolf awarded me with this position at his laboratory. Additionally, for this traineeship, I was awarded the HiLIFE Research Trainee Scholarship issued by the Helsinki Institute of Life Sciences (HiLIFE) which provides financial support, as well as promotes scientific communication to the public. I would like to state that I am highly grateful to the Selection Committee for considering me as a fit candidate for this position.

What am I exactly doing at the LSCB and what is my main research topic?

I would like to start this part with a bit of scientific background to give you a grasp of the whole picture. Nowadays, the term ‘organoids’ is quite known in the scientific community and refers to a 3D multicellular in vitro tissue construct that mimics its corresponding tissue in vivo1. Although organoids are being used around the globe and for several purposes, there are some limitations in this methodology. First of all, since they are a 3D structure, they are usually embedded in a Matrigel matrix whose origin is from a mouse sarcoma basement membrane and has a high batch-to-batch variability2. The Matrigel origin abolishes the possibility of its usage for regenerative medicine in humans, and the batch-to-batch variability interferes with the experiment reproducibility. Additionally, while some organoids are more characterized than others due to their tissue of origin, none of them keeps a physiological tissue shape, nor an unlimited functionality or a high lifespan3. To solvent these limitations on organoid culturing, the LSCB laboratory’s main research goal is to develop third-generation organoids from stem cells by using innovative bioengineering strategies.

My contribution to the lab’s main goal is to test the effect of different ECM proteins on gastric stem cell differentiation and regulation. Human gastric organoids are not as well characterized as human intestinal organoids, as a matter of fact, not all the cell components of the human gastric glands are able to be differentiated in the common 3D organoid model4. On the other side, the focus on the extracellular matrix (ECM) as a key niche component of stem cells has exponentially increased in the past years5,6. Therefore, I am researching whether bioengineering a synthetic hydrogel enriched with different ECM proteins can modulate human gastric stem cell regulation and differentiation to improve the pre-existing 3D organoid model.

Even though I started this journey last November, it is still not finished! Impressive things are yet to come, and I expect to have interesting results by the end of this internship. I will keep you posted! In the meantime, you can also check HiLIFE Research Trainees’ social media for more daily life stories 🙂

I am particularly obsessed with citing, so down below you have some references of what I just stated in case someone wants to go deeper on the topic!

  1. Souza, D. N. (2018, January 3). Organoids. Nature. Retrieved February 23, 2022, from
  2. Serban, M. A., & Prestwich, G. D. (2008). Modular extracellular matrices: Solutions for the puzzle. Methods, 45(1), 93–98.
  3. Hofer, M., & Lutolf, M. P. (2021). Engineering organoids. Nature Reviews Materials, 6(5), 402–420.
  4. Seidlitz, T., Koo, B. K., & Stange, D. E. (2020). Gastric organoids—an in vitro model system for the study of gastric development and road to personalized medicine. Cell Death & Differentiation, 28(1), 68–83.
  5. Pardo-Saganta, A., Calvo, I. A., Saez, B., & Prosper, F. (2019). Role of the Extracellular Matrix in Stem Cell Maintenance. Current Stem Cell Reports, 5(1), 1–10.
  6. Rezakhani, S., Gjorevski, N., & Lutolf, M. (2021). Extracellular matrix requirements for gastrointestinal organoid cultures. Biomaterials, 276, 121020.

Human stem cells and puberty

Hi everyone,

I am Linda, a second-year Master’s student in the program of Genetics and Molecular Biosciences at the University of Helsinki. As one of the 2022 HiLIFE Research Trainees, I am very happy to be able to follow my scientific curiosities in the upcoming months. I applied for the HiLIFE Research Trainee scholarship to gain experience in the field of stem cell biology and cell culture, and I am excited to have found a suitable opportunity for this in the Raivio lab at Biomedicum. I have recently started working on my thesis project. Within the following months, I will learn more about the genetic and hormonal regulation of puberty initiation. The Raivio group is specialized in the differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells into GnRH-releasing neurons, which are crucial for puberty induction.

My study background is in Genetics and Genomics and during my thesis project, I will gain more practical experience in related methods such as cloning, gRNA design, and using the CRISPR/Cas9 technology. My general goal is to activate the expression of target genes associated with puberty. However, I am also thrilled to learn about new techniques and expand my skill set in the upcoming months. Especially, stem cell biology, cell culture, and neurobiology are fields I am excited to get in touch with. Also, during my first weeks working in the lab, I was able to attend the STEMM Research Program Retreat which has been a new and exciting experience for me. It helped to find out what the current hot topics in stem cell research are and to learn more about ongoing projects of different labs. Additionally, it was also a great opportunity to socialize with colleagues.

After working in bioinformatics from home during the past year, I am highly excited to be able to visit the campus and lab on a daily basis now. Despite the pandemic, I can conduct experiments and exchange ideas with other members of the team. I am very thankful for the support I was awarded with by HiLIFE, as well as for the position I received in the research lab. I am hoping to learn and develop skills for my future career, but also to enjoy my time at Biomedicum. You’ll hear from me again soon.

Six months later. A brief reflection.

Arriving at the Baraban Epilepsy Research Laboratory typically involves either climbing eight flights of stairs or waiting an unsettlingly long time while the elevator, long overdue for repairs, shudders its way to the desired floor. My lethargy usually precludes expediency, and I regularly find myself squished in at the back of the enclosed container. On the plus side, the elevator talk is often entertaining; grumblings over the embarrassment that is the elevator, this effectively lightens the figurative load.

Continue reading “Six months later. A brief reflection.”

Turtles, Herpes and Sunshine at Eastern Florida

If someone had asked me five years ago, I probably couldn’t have guessed that I would be spending my sixth year of veterinary studies thousands of miles away from home, sitting inside a lab with an air conditioning as enthusiastic as October winds in Helsinki. Yet there I was, soaked in the familiar smell of Clorox wipes, whirring tiny tissue bits through various machines in the slow spurring excitement of soon finding out something, even small, that no one else ever has before.

Continue reading “Turtles, Herpes and Sunshine at Eastern Florida”

A love letter to Oxford!


A city abundant with history, science and beauty. And some weird type of magic that is hard to put into words. That was my first impression of Oxford in August when I first arrived, and now after finishing my HiLIFE Traineeship here, the feeling has not changed. Except that I now know that here history is not left in the past but it’s present every day when you study in a library built in the 14th century or participate in ceremonies that have stayed intact for centuries. Also, science and learning are not hidden in big buildings away from the city but are instead scattered all across the town, with colleges and departments found behind every street corner. Here, the university is everywhere.

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Hej från Stockholm!

Hello! My name is Abigail Dove and I’m a master’s student in the University of Helsinki’s Neuroscience program. I recently arrived in Stockholm, where I am conducting my master’s thesis research at the Karolinska Institute’s Aging Research Center.  My project centers on something I view as one of the most interesting problems in public health: The increased risk of dementia conferred by type 2 diabetes. Specifically, I will be analyzing longitudinal Swedish population data to determine the extent to which a diagnosis of diabetes or prediabetes increases the risk of progressing from prodromal cognitive impairment to overt dementia, and whether improved glycemic control could stabilize or even reverse this trajectory.

Continue reading “Hej från Stockholm!”