Medical technology bringing people wellbeing
Wellbeing and health are matters that concern everyone. Research, services and product development in relation to them are making huge strides everywhere in the world. Nowhere more so than in Tampere, where an internationally-significant network of expertise in the fields of health care and medical technology has grown up over the years. The companies involved now generate turnover of 800 million markkas (Euro 135 m) between them and the total is forecast to increase to 2.5 billion (Euro 420 m) by the year 2006.
"The sector is very international. Most of the companies' products are for export, in addition to which an increasing share of their research is being done in collaboration with partners abroad," says Managing Director Matti Eskola of Finn-Medi Tutkimus Oy. The company was founded five years ago to promote cooperation between the health-care sector, research bodies and companies in the Tampere region. True to the "tutkimus" - Finnish for "research" - in its name, Finn-Medi assists in the implementation of development projects and helps companies improve their products and business methods.
"Tampere is a fruitful environment in which to develop health-related technology," says Eskola. "A characteristic feature is that health care - including clients - are closely involved in cooperation, as is the Technical University. This was the first place in Finland where engineers could graduate with medical technology as their specialism. The latest advances in information technology have likewise been harnessed to the needs of health care."
Tests without animals
Medical research and technology are of a high standard in Tampere and they are getting results. Eskola mentions a few of the achievements to date and some ongoing research projects:
The University of Tampere is running an important research project to develop a new method of measuring eye toxicity without needing to use animal tests. Traditionally, the effects of various chemicals on eyes have been investigated by applying drops of the substances to the eyes of rabbits. The new method is based on cell cultures and it will eventually be possible to find out how dangerous a substance is by applying it directly to a cell or part of a cell. Animal tests will no longer be needed.
Good progress has also been made in the development of a HIV vaccine based on a Finnish invention. The work is a follow-on to years of research done at the University of Tampere. Oy Finnish Immunotechnology Ltd is now looking after the product-development and commercialisation stage.
A digital x-ray machine designed by Tampere-based IMIX will be a big help to health care, especially in remote areas. Rather than using film, it creates images in digital form and they can be quickly transmitted to, for example, a consultant pretty well anywhere in the world. Digital x-ray technology is an essential component of telemedicine, in which picture transmission and real-time diagnosis can bring the expertise of specialist physicians to anywhere with the requisite equipment.
A better quality of life with technology
Being able to live in their own homes and take care of themselves independently gives old and handicapped people a better quality of life. Helping to make this possible is Pikosystems Oy of Tampere, one of the world's most important manufacturer of environment control equipment. The company has developed concepts in which different elements can be assembled to create the package best suiting a particular case. For example, an environment can be constructed in which a paralysed wheelchair-bound patient can function independently at home: opening windows, switching on a microwave, connecting with the Internet, using e-mail, etc.
Another example that Eskelinen mention is a physiotherapy instructions library developed by Physiotools of Tampere and now used in many parts of the world. This user-friendly programme environment contains the world's most comprehensive collection of rehabilitation-related picture material. With its help a physiotherapist can quickly tailor a personal exercise programme for a patient. The programme can be recorded on video and the patient can either watch it that way or use paper prints of the pictures.