At Work with Pathologist Tuomas Mirtti

Pathologist Tuomas Mirtti in the Health Sciences Research Building on the Emory University campus.

Tuomas Mirtti is a pathologist and a research group leader in Helsinki Urological Cancer Center.

What do you do for work?

A lot! I spend half of my time on clinical work, and the other half on research, with a particular interest in urological cancers. Currently, I am based in Atlanta, USA, where I work as a visiting associate professor at Emory University.

In July 2023, I will be returning to Finland where I co-lead the Mirtti-Rannikko lab with Professor Antti Rannikko. Our lab focuses on prostate, kidney, and bladder cancer research, along with various collaborative projects.

What is a typical workday like for you?

Here in Atlanta, I typically head to campus by bicycle. Although the city is not very bicycle-friendly, the route is safe, and the weather is almost always pleasant. Once on campus, or some days at home, I start my day with a virtual meeting or several with the group and collaborators in Finland. Due to the seven-hour time difference the meeting can begin as early as 6 a.m.

After the meeting, I continue my workday by working together with PhD students and post-docs, attending routine lab meetings, and working on several research projects in digital pathology.

What has your experience been like as a visiting researcher in Atlanta?

My visit is about exchanging knowledge and learning together. Things are moving along great and working here has been quite an eye-opening experience so far. If you have the opportunity, it is worth it to spend some time as a visiting researcher overseas. You get to see what others are doing and how they are doing it– as well as how your own research fits in with the larger picture.

The laboratory I work at in the School of Medicine, Department of Biomedical Engineering, is led by Professor Anant Madabhushi and it is one of the largest in the world when it comes to AI research. My focus here is to deepen my knowledge of AI technologies and share what I have learned with my own research group when I return to Finland. And, naturally, continue the collaboration with Professor Madabhushi.

Research Group Leader Tuomas Mirtti (left) with Professor Antti Rannikko on top of Stone Mountain with a skyline view of downtown Atlanta.

What is the hottest topic in pathology right now?

Artificial intelligence has been a hot topic in pathology for many years now. Pathology and radiology are leaders in AI applications because they are based on images. Although there is not much clinical use yet, there are some commercial AI applications in use already. So far, the focus has been mostly on image-based data, but in the future, we will try to combine different data modalities with AI. However, we must also be critical of how much can be achieved with AI and be mindful of how we use it as clinicians.

Anything else you would like to share about your work in Helsinki Urological Cancer Center?

If we think about the Mirtti-Rannikko research group, we have a great spirit and research program. Considering our group size, we are a top group in terms of publication quantity, and hopefully quality as well. The asset we have in HUCC and in Finland more generally is our proximity to clinical data and patient care. Because of a centralised health care system, medical researchers in Finland have access to patient data all the way from diagnosis to treatment and monitoring.

What comes next for you?

In the summer, I will return to Finland and bring these lessons to my own group. In our research projects, we will aim to utilize artificial intelligence in combining pathology and radiology data with clinical data. I will be working with my own group and contributing to the Digital Precision Cancer Medicine Flagship research project called iCAN.

I would want to further facilitate the adaptation of digital pathology in the clinical workflow at HUS and Finland. Overall, my goal is to bring robust AI models to digital pathology.

About Tuomas:

  • Lives in Espoo with his family and dog, within a cycling distance of Biomedicum
  • Hobbies include running and cycling to work and listening to audio books