September 15, 2017

Five for Friday: Helsinki Challenge

Seven groundbreaking teams of scientists rise to the Helsinki Challenge.
Seven groundbreaking teams of scientists rise to the Helsinki Challenge.

From malaria reduction to creating a kidney, this science competition is spurring the curious minds of Finland to find solutions for inequality worldwide.

Innovation is ambitiously encouraged in Finland, with events often tailored to selected audiences. One such scheme is the Helsinki Challenge, an ‘idea accelerator’ that applauds science through competition. With a broad orientation to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, it is designed to improve global inequalities. Consolidating research with business, the competition supports ideas that vary from commercial to pioneering research.

The finalists were selected in June, and the winner receiving 375 000 euros is announced in November.  Check out the teams who have innovation down to a science – and decide who you think should take home the prize.

The number five is a little restrictive in this context, so behold our very first Five (+2) for Friday!


Helping schools to facilitate the teaching of global competences and develop pedagogies relevant to globalisation is the intent of this finalist. The team targets competences such as collaboration, social engagement, problem solving, resilience, emotion regulation and multicultural understanding.

“The aim is to develop a holistic solution including an experience sampling application with which students can evaluate competences they need in their everyday life,” explains team leader, professor Auli Toom. “The second part of our solution is a competence wall that collects information from individual students’ applications to be utilised when evaluating the progress of learning global competencies collectively with students and teachers.”


After studying three-dimensioned net printing and the psychology of mosquitos, this team developed Elmo: a method of elimination of mosquito-mediated diseases by trapping mosquitos inside two nets. Pursuing wide-scale use of the nets, the goal is to reduce malaria globally.

“We started to think about possibilities of the physical structures for mosquitos coming in on one side of a net and not coming back out, reducing the numbers of mosquitos by night,” describes team member, professor Seppo Meri. “It [addresses] a very important global problem; we want to serve and help in that.”


Chosen by the audience in June, this team uses 3D printing technology to construct a functional mini-kidney. By consolidating fields of biology, bio-pharmacy, biomaterial research, engineering and business, the aim is to fix the shortage of organs.

Team leader Susanna Kaisto explains that “bio-printing is a hot topic right now in the world. It gives us the possibility to arrange cells grown as single cells with other types of cells, in a 3D structure. We aim to copy nature’s way of building a kidney.”


One of the most pressing questions regarding the utility of renewable energy is its storage. Such a solution would also allow access to excess energy that is produced and wasted today. This team addresses these concerns – in doing so combating climate change – by creating novel materials for thermal storage.

“I got an idea – and funding – to start developing completely new materials which could be utilised not only in small but also in large scale applications,” explains team leader, senior scientist Ari Seppälä. “Now we have made two material innovations for this purpose.”


Each patient’s cancer is unique. For a patient that does not respond to standard chemotherapy, this team seeks to create a tool for predicting a customised drug combination therapy by investigating his or her genetic data. The predicted treatment option will be evaluated in a drug screening experiment on the patient’s cancer sample, the results of which may greatly help the decision making in clinics.

“This ‘data-driven medicine’ is what we believe to be the future of healthcare in cancer,” says team leader Jing Tang. “The drug screening experiments using patients’ samples are very cost-effective, and could be potentially translated to clinical applications for improving cancer precision medicine.”

Parental Box

This team wants to improve the commended Finnish maternity box, by including information cards on mental health issues and setting up a corresponding electronic platform. The toolkit can be exported through international organisations and companies who want to offer employees extra health and social care.

“There are a number of families lacking basic knowledge on how to raise a child – perhaps it’s the first baby that they’re holding in their arms,” describes team member, professor Lotta Uusitalo-Malmivaara. “Our idea is to give a basic, easy access, evidence based toolkit.”


Wouldn’t it be useful for patients to test themselves for microbes at different stages of a disease? This team wants to increase health awareness by transforming the diagnostic platform.

“We want to put the power of diagnostics in the hands of the patients,” explains team leader Dr. Leona Gilbert. “There’s a lot of rapid testing in different things – the way this is done needs to be improved and microbes is the way to do it.”