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At the cutting edge of biomaterials and tissue engineering

Tampere University of Technology
Tampere University of Technology is renowned for cutting-edge research in signal processing, nanophotonics, intelligent machines, biomaterials, and tissue engineering.

Technology plays a key part in addressing problems related to sustainable development and human well-being; and researchers at the Tampere University of Technology are working on a wide range of human-centred, environmentally benign technologies and tools for addressing issues such as the ageing population and the need to develop more efficient health care services worldwide.

The university’s Department of Biomedical Engineering focuses on medical instrumentation, biomaterials, and tissue engineering – and has built up extensive expertise in a variety of applications making use of new technologies, such as bioabsorbable polymers and composites, bioelectromagnetism, inverse biomedical imaging, tissue characterisation, and 3D image-based modelling and visualisation.

Bioabsorbable polylactide copolymer drug-eluting stents and joint scaffolds are among the research areas being pioneered at the Tampere University of Technology.

Researchers have done extensive work in characterising and processing biomaterials, such as biodegradable polymers, bioactive and biodegradable bioceramics, and composites using a variety of methods. Developing biomaterials and implants for surgical needs, 3D biodegradable scaffolds for tissue engineering, and drugreleasing multifunctional implants has become a particular area of expertise. Medical instrumentation, informatics, wearable and implantable systems, and telemedicine are also covered; and novel tissue engineering projects bring together know-how in biomaterials, instrumentation for cellular biolectiric signals, and cell and material modelling.

Functional 3D models

One of the biomedical projects currently being coordinated at Tampere, and involving companies from very different fields, such as dentistry systems supplier Planmeca and filter expert Larox, is the MIKAMA project. This is focusing on the 3D image-based characterisation and modelling of microstructures in biological and engineered materials.

The approach is very multidisciplinary and involves medical imaging for bone characterisation, biomaterial science for estimating the estimation of porosity in implants and other biomaterials, and material science for evaluating the properties of ceramics and biomaterial constructs.

The goal is to device accurate and realistic 3D computational models of microstructures and their properties based on imaging data, and develop methods for analysing and processing material properties from tomography images. The new methods will enable models to be constructed that can be employed in the characterisation of physical and biological microstructures, and in determining their electrical, mechanical, and functional properties.

The current phase of the project, ending in 2011, will concentrate on computational and manufacturing models for rapid prototyping in applications such as industrial filters, biomaterial scaffolds, bone research, tissue engineering, and rapid prototyping.

Mimicking nature

Developing novel methods to produce transplantable functional neuronal cells and cardiomyocytes from stem cells by investigating and assembling dedicated biomimetic cell culture environments is the focus of the STEMFUNC project, another of the department’s key initiatives.

This work is designed to provide cells with optimum biomimetic culture conditions, and to offer researchers a practical platform for measuring, modelling, and stimulating the functional properties of cells, cell populations, and how they interact.

Work on the STEMFUNC project will help extend our understanding of the combined effects of growth factors, biomaterials, and electrical and mechanical stimuli on neuronal cells and cardiomyocytes derived from transplantable stem cell material, according to Professor Jari Hyttinen.

The environment will help extend our understanding of the combined effects of growth factors, biomaterials, and electrical and mechanical stimuli on the differentiation, proliferation, and maturation of neuronal cells and cardiomyocytes derived from transplantable stem cell material.

STEMFUNC is also very much a multidisciplinary effort, and involves experts in biomaterials, modelling, signal processing, microsensors, microfluids, and microactuator technology from the university and stem cell technology specialists from the Regea Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Helping the body repair itself

The Tampere University of Technology has achieved international prominence in the field of biomaterials processing and biodegradable implants, and development of the world’s first bioabsorbable implant was started in Tampere in the 1970s. Since then, pioneering work has been done in areas such as bio-reconstructive joint prostheses for the finger and toe joints of patients with rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.

The latest work includes tissue-engineered active human spare parts, combining the department’s expertise in measurement and imaging technologies and modelling. Materials under development include biodegradable and active composite materials, such as bioactive glass and biodegradable polymer fibre composites. These materials replace missing or damaged tissue: as they gradually dissolve, they are replaced with the patient’s own tissue.

Developing biosensing expertise

Expertise in biosensing – or the measurement of the biological characteristics and functions of living organisms – is concentrated at the Bio sensing Competence Centre, which brings together a dozen research professors and close to 100 researchers in the field from the Tampere University of Technology and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

The Biosensing Competence Centre offers tools for cell and tissue engineering, including stem cell research, and cell-based testing, together with systems for diagnostics molecular recognition, biosensors for rapid testing, and point-of-care devices. The centre is also developing wearable wireless monitoring technology and sensors and devices for food and environmental monitoring. 

> Jari Hyttinen
(Published in HighTech Finland 2010)