Researchers: making Tampere3 a partner for health technology companies

According to Niku Oksala and Matti Mäntysalo, interdisciplinary co-operation should become an integral part of the Tampere3 operating model.

According to Niku Oksala and Matti Mäntysalo, interdisciplinary co-operation should become an integral part of the Tampere3 operating model.

At Tampere3, doctors will have the opportunity to design high-quality technological research and engineers will be able to develop clinical applications for medical care. According to researchers, such co-operation should also be harnessed to enhance business.

The sticky plaster is long, narrow and translucent. There are grey stripes of electronic leads on its lower surface. Associate Professor of Vascular Surgery Niku Oksala from the University of Tampere (UTA) and Associate Professor, Academy Research Fellow Matti Mäntysalo from Tampere University of Technology (TUT) recently received Academy of Finland funding to study how the soft and flexible electronic sticky plaster can be utilised to diagnose the dangerous aneurysm of the stomach aorta.

What is special in their study is, among other things, how they have involved medical experts right from the start in order to examine how the data measured by the sticky plaster can be utilised in practice.

A reality check by an outsider is often necessary

In the opinion of Oksala and Mäntysalo, such interdisciplinary co-operation should become an integral part of the Tampere3 operating model in order to enable companies developing health-related and medical technology to benefit from the know-how of Tampere3.

“Many good inventions may be prevented because of lack of time to properly do all the phases needed in productisation. What is emphasised in health technology is that the anatomical and physiologic aspects of the product must be analysed together with ethical and technical starting points. With Tampere3, we are creating a forum where we will be able to do these things side by side and in cooperation,” Oksala says.

Companies could make arrangements with the university to conduct the clinical studies and trials needed for the eventual standardisation of their products. In addition, businesses could take advantage of the health economics know-how at Tampere3, for example in the form of various impact studies.

According to Mäntysalo, this would benefit both society and medical technology companies for which scientific articles are an important point of reference in marketing their products.

“It would be more important for one-innovation start-ups than major health technology companies to consult an external operator who understands the limitations involved. In small businesses, excitement about one’s own inventions may go overboard,” Mäntysalo says.

Attention to usability

The plaster studied by Oksala and Mäntysalo is designed to facilitate the diagnosis of a severe vascular disease. At the worst, the illness can lead to an aortic rupture. The disease is presently often detected by accident with expensive imaging methods.

With the help of the plaster, the disease could already be diagnosed in primary health care.

“Facilitating or automating work will save costs,” Mäntysalo says.

If the patients are able to do some of the routine measurements themselves, technology may also reduce the cost of health and medical care in the future. The doctors’ time could be spent on medical procedures that require hands-on expertise.

“In that case, we would need to pay particular attention to the usability of the products. The devices would have to notice if the readings are taken incorrectly,” Oksala says.

In Oksala’s opinion, it would be natural to use the expertise of Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) on engineering and health and medical care in usability testing.

“TAMK could be a good forum to find out how professionals and users experience the equipment,” Oksala adds.

Helping consumers

A lot of health technology is also directly marketed to consumers. A few years ago, a Finnish company called Valkee faced a lot of unfavourable criticism because their ear light gadget was found not to be based on enough solid scientific evidence. In the United States, a class action suit was filed against the heart rate monitor company Fitbit because their device allegedly showed too low heart rates.

“There may be heart rate monitors in the market with insufficient precision to be used safely in exercising. At Tampere3, know-how could also be utilised in consumer product research,” Oksala says.

According to Oksala, medical students should be given information about the equipment that their patients may be using. The technical know-how from Tampere3 could be utilised to also train the medical students.

“To start with, many of the technological terms are so difficult that it is hard to figure out what they mean. That could be the basis for good co-operation,” Mäntysalo says.

Both UTA and TUT are currently working together with health technology companies, but Mäntysalo believes that from the point of view of the companies, one-stop shopping would be easier.

“Tampere3 could be the answer to getting all the services from one spot,” Mäntysalo says.

On the other hand, the University would financially benefit from co-operation with the companies. According to Mäntysalo, however, research into medical and health technology will need a proper framework and organisation.

“If we want to do something really big, all relevant actors must be brought together,” Mäntysalo points out.

Text: Hanna Hyvärinen
Photo: Jonne Renvall