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OBNE20 Blog Series: Mikko Finnilä, Biomedical engineering

Oulu Bioscience Networking Event 2020 (OBNE20) has been replaced by a blog series which highlights Innovative interdisciplinary research activities in Oulu. This is the final blog post in the series. Enjoy!

In medicine, technological advances have created a great need for professionals who understand both, medicine and technology, since modern technologies have become an important part of the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases. Therefore, biomedical engineering, which combines medicine and engineering, has been developed its own discipline to meet the need. Biomedical engineering brings together the principles and problem-solving skills of engineering with biological sciences in order to improve human healthcare. This can be achieved by finding better ways to detect, diagnose and treat existing diseases and conditions. Examples of biomedical engineering, that we all are familiar with, are implantable medical devices like pacemakers and artificial hips or, let’s say, MRI scanning.

Mikko Finnilä

In the University of Oulu, biomedical engineering can be studied in master programme organized in collaboration between the Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering. “The field is highly interdisciplinary, and besides our courses and researchers various others have also elements of biomedical engineering or medical technology in their courses and can identify such elements in their research“, says Mikko Finnilä, a University Lecturer and a Docent of biomedical engineering. What attracted Mikko to the field of biomedical engineering was a keen interest to the clinical applications of medical engineering: ”Biomedical engineering seemed like something which could provide a lot of great opportunities in the future, and the program was also marketed well”.

After completing his master’s studies, Mikko obtained his PhD degree in Medicine at the University of Oulu, under the supervision of Professors Juha Tuukkanen, Timo Jämsä and Matti Viluksela. He defended his doctoral thesis, “Bone toxicity of persistent organic pollutants”, in 2014. The thesis project introduced Mikko to the field of tissue imaging and he garnered useful methodological tools for the future.

Throughout his academic life, Mikko has been open for international collaborations, and he has done several international research visits to UK, Canada and Sweden. These research visits have enabled Mikko to utilize specific kind of research infrastructure which cannot be found at Oulu at the moment: ”I have been able to work on different animal models and use specific instruments that are not available here”. Currently, Mikko is a  vice-head of Professor Simo Saarakkala’s DIOS group. DIOS focuses on the diagnosis of osteoarthritis. The group is highly skilled in different imaging applications, such as biospectroscopy, ultrasound, computed tomography, and thermal imaging.

In the field of biomedical engineering, new innovations arise frequently, and a few start-ups have also stemmed from DIOS group. For instance, Inmodi develops novel methods to diagnose osteoarthritis. In the current COVID-19 pandemic, Saarakkala gathered funding to develop infrared spectroscopy -based solutions to identify COVID-19 from patient samples. “Samples with COVID-19 have different spectra and by comparing the samples with and without COVID-19, machine learning algorithms can identify the main differences between these samples, and these differences can then be utilized to identify COVID-19. This method holds a promise to be a faster diagnosis measure for COVID-19”, explains Lassi Rieppo, a Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Fellow.

In addition to research, Mikko takes the teaching of students seriously. “Teaching is an integral part of the job and my own ambition is to develop the united education of biomedical engineering at the University of Oulu”.

In Oulu, Mikko’s know-how on tissue imaging has sparked collaborations with multiple research groups, notably with the ones that are studying extra-cellular matrix and the musculoskeletal system. Mikko’s research has always involved the use of genetically modified mouse models, and his know-how on murine tissue imaging has proven to be a fruitful ground for collaboration. “Likewise, my collaborators have performed biochemical analyses which I’m not familiar with.”

For now, Mikko is planning to continue teaching and research in the university. “I am looking to shift my own research towards treatment of osteoarthritis with novel biomaterials and drug delivery systems, which is my personal research interest. You really never know what the future holds.

– Interview by Mikko Karpale

Image provided by Mikko Finnilä