Hanna Mikkola, MD, PhD

Hanna Mikkola, M.D., Ph.D. 

Professor, Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology

Bio

Hanna Mikkola, M.D., Ph.D., studies hematopoietic, or blood stem cells, which can self-renew and create all blood and immune cell types through a process called differentiation. Mikkola is identifying how proteins and other cellular cues affect blood stem cells during embryonic development and differentiation. Her goal is to enhance the understanding of these processes in order to efficiently and effectively generate blood stem cells in the lab. A readily available supply of these cells would greatly improve transplantation treatments for blood diseases such as leukemia and aplastic anemia.

Blood stem cells are already commonly used to treat people with diseases of the blood or immune system, in the form of donor bone marrow transplants. However, this treatment option is limited by the challenge of finding a compatible donor, which is not always possible, and by the risk that the patient’s immune system will reject the foreign cells. Mikkola’s research could pave the way for the production of healthy blood stem cells in the lab using patient-specific blood stem cells, which would allow patients to be their own bone marrow donors.

Mikkola’s lab uses genetically modified mouse models as well as mouse and human pluripotent stem cells to study blood stem cell development and differentiation. Her lab has discovered a unique protein, GPI-80, that helps identify the rare blood stem cells during human development and is integral to their self-renewal. Her team has also pinpointed the function of a cluster of specialized genes, HOXA genes, that play a critical role in creating and preserving blood stem cells and identified the process by which those genes are activated. Both of these advances marked key steps forward in the quest to create patient-specific blood stem cells.

Another major focus in Mikkola’s lab is determining what makes human blood stem cells capable of self-renewing without losing their differentiation potential. Identifying what gives blood stem cells the ability to keep their “stemness” will also bring much needed insight into the development of leukemia, which is a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissue. This insight should provide a valuable foundation upon which new and better treatments for leukemia can be developed.

Mikkola earned doctorate and medical degrees from the University of Helsinki in Finland. She completed post-doctoral training at Lund University in Sweden and Harvard Medical School. 

Publications

Honors & Affiliations

Honors

  • McCulloch and Till Award, International Society for Experimental Hematology, 2013

Affiliations

  • President, International Society for Hematology
  • International Society for Stem Cell Research
  • American Society for Hematology

Funding

Mikkola’s research is funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association and a Regenerative Medicine Theme Award from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Videos

Beating Heart Muscle Cells
Scientists led by Dr. Hanna Mikkola of the Broad Stem Cell Research Center at UCLA have generated beating cardiomyocytes, or heart muscle cells, from blood forming tissue.
The Placental Niche
Dr. Hanna Mikkola and post-doctoral fellow, Akanksha Chhabra, discuss their discovery of a critical placental niche cell and signaling pathway that prevents blood precursors from premature differentiation in the placenta, a process that is necessary for ensuring proper blood supply for an individual's lifetime.
Generating patient-specific blood stem cells
Dr. Hanna Mikkola studies how blood stem cells develop in the body and how their ability to self-renew as well as create all types of blood cells is regulated. In this video, she discusses how her lab aims to generate a supply of blood stem cells in the lab that can be matched to patients in need of a blood stem cell, or bone marrow, transplant.