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Finns leave no stone unturned in search of solutions to health problems

Led by its founders Anne-Marie Haaparanta (left) and Virpi Muhonen, Askel Healthcare has set itself the target of becoming the global standard for surgical cartilage repair.

Mart Production / Pexels

From robots to biodegradable implants, data repositories and handheld screening cameras, Finnish organisations are rolling out new tools to improve public health.

Optomed, an Oulu-based provider of handheld fundus cameras and screening software, and Thirona Retina in May announced they have forged a partnership to launch a joint product offering across Europe and parts of Asia and the Middle East.

The bundle consists of a handheld camera developed by Optomed, Aurora, and an artificial intelligence-powered retinal image analysis tool developed by Thirona Retina, RetCAD.

The camera has a high-contrast optical design and intelligent features, such as automatic focus and exposure, that enable physicians and non-physicians alike to detect minor early-stage retinal changes when screening for eye diseases. The analysis tool, meanwhile, screens retinal images for age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, and provides indications of glaucoma, a group of eye conditions affecting the optic nerve.

Laura Piila, director of devices at Optomed, said integrating the two products creates a powerful eye-screening tool with optimal workflow.

“We are enthusiastic to establish this partnership with Thirona Retina,” she stated. “Optomed and Thirona Retina have a shared and well aligned vision of providing outstanding quality and usability with our solutions to help detect vision-threatening diseases early.”

Her enthusiasm was shared by the managing director of Thirona Retina, Mark van Grinsven: “We are excited to expand our presence to the handheld fundus camera market and make the innovation available to many more patients faster, together with Optomed.”

Optomed’s handheld cameras have intelligent features such as automatic focus and exposure to also enable non-physicians to detect nascent changes in the retina.


Forum Virium Helsinki, the innovation company of the City of Helsinki, has launched a trial that uses a robot as an assistant for the nursing staff at Laakso Hospital in Helsinki, reports Yle.

Developed by Edinburgh-based Touchlab Limited, the robot can be operated with a game controller or a haptic gloves and suit, which make it possible for the controller to feel tactile sensations as the robot comes into physical contact with objects.

“The robot has a human-like hand. A human can control even its fingertips, and from the fingertips touch is relayed in real time back to the user,” Zakareya Hussein, CEO of Touchlab Limited, stated to Yle.

The ability to relay tactile information is what makes the robot stand out from, for example, remotely controlled surgical robots. Hussein estimated that although these kinds of robots were originally developed for space technology, the robot should prove helpful also in a healthcare setting.

Laakso Hospital has trained 12 nurses to operate the robot, which has been named Välkky.

Kirsi Ahonen, senior nurse at Laakso Hospital, reminded that automation and robotics have yet to truly become part of the day-to-day healthcare system, despite years of public discussion about their looming arrival. Välkky, she told, can be used for tasks such as checking in on a patient who is feeling lonely and reading poems to the patient.

“Naturally, we want to try everything that’s new and innovative. Making something for tomorrow and planning the future is what will enable us to do well,” she said to the public broadcasting company.

Ahonen underscored that the robot is presently being trialled in nursing with the understanding of patients while making sure they continue to receive the care and support they require.

The Välkky robot can be used for tasks such as checking in on a patient who is feeling lonely and reading poems to the patient.

City of Helsinki / Olli-Pekka_Orpo

Askel Healthcare announced last week the launch of a two-day share issue with the goal of raising five million euros to finance the clinical trials of COPLA, its trademarked biodegradable implant for the surgical treatment of knee cartilage damage.

Virpi Muhonen, CEO of the Helsinki-based company, said the implant has been developed to tackle the universal problem of knee pain, which is potentially very debilitating and the number-one reason preventing people from engaging in the physical activities they enjoy.

“[COPLA] works together with the biological environment of the knee, allowing the joint surface to repair itself. It is the only cartilage repair method that allows the patient to place full body weight on the operated leg immediately after the surgery. This shortens the recovery time and enables patients to return to their daily activities faster,” she commented.

“Moreover, the mechanical stimuli resulting from physical activity is paramount for cartilage tissue to rebuild itself and thus for long-term clinical effects.”

Askel Healthcare has set itself the target of becoming the standard for surgical cartilage repair, a market that is valued at an estimated three billion US dollars.

Data enables healthcare innovation

In Finland, the high-quality, digitally available data that is produced constantly across the public healthcare system is widely considered a key contributing factor to healthcare and pharmaceutical innovation.

Helsinki University Hospital (HUS), which is responsible for providing specialist healthcare to 2.2 million people in Southern Finland, collects digital data on altogether 2.8 million patient visits a year, including records of laboratory tests and X-rays. And it has done so for decades.

The data has two primary applications, according to Miika Koskinen, development manager at HUS: On one hand, healthcare providers themselves can leverage it to improve cost and operational efficiency. On the other, they can use advance analytics to determine the cause of health problems or the efficacy of a particular intervention for a particular group of patients.

“We’re in a great position to see the big picture through data use,” he stated to Health Capital Helsinki in May.

HUS decided to unleash the full potential of the data a couple of years ago by compiling the data into a repository called HUS Data Lake. The repository enables researchers to form massive sets of clinical real-world data that share certain common variables to, for example, make healthcare-related predictions or assess the efficacy of interventions.

The repository will only grow as medical staff at the university hospital continue to make diagnoses, perform laboratory tests, medical scans and surgical procedures, and administer medications.

Risto Renkonen, professor of glycobiology at the University of Helsinki, believes the data is not only beneficial, but an outright prerequisite for bringing about the paradigm shift needed to elevate healthcare to the next level.

“Under the old system, we’ve gone as far as we can go,” he gauged.

Renkonen argued that the imagination of researchers is the only factor holding back the utilisation of HUS Data Lake. “[The] Data Lake does require a new kind of mindset. We must now ask ourselves: what can we accomplish with this new tool – what’s the most useful thing it can do for patients,” he stated, stopping short of offering an answer.

Koskinen also pointed out that the combination of abundant preprocessed clinical real-world data and a cutting-edge analytics platform that enables high-performance computing can foster the creation of data-driven ecosystems and attract plenty of international attention to Finland.

“It’s one of the biggest data lakes in Europe, which makes HUS a very appealing research partner, also from the perspective of the corporate world,” he said.

Detection Technology in May reported that it is broadening its linear detector array offering with X-Scan TO2s, a series of cameras featuring a high-resolution, high-speed complementary metal oxide semiconductor sensor design and upgraded electronics.

The Oulu-based technology firm provides detectors and services related to X-ray imaging for industries including manufacturing, medicine and security.

The X-Scan TO2 series was designed to operate in the 20–200kV energy range to cover a variety of X-ray imaging applications. Its industry-standard mechanics support easy system integration and upgrades while the high level of integration and simplified system design deliver enhanced image quality, cost savings, minimal risks, longer lifetimes and maximal up-times compared to alternatives, according to the firm.

Tomi Fält, head of product management at Detection Technology, said the company is particularly proud of the connectivity and compatibility features of X-Scan TO2: It features the 10 Gigabit Ethernet interface and is compatible with the GigE Vision protocol.

“This enables robust, reliable and fast communication between the detector and X-ray systems, and supports third-party software platforms without the need to have a specific image grabber hardware on the system computer,” he elaborated.

By: Aleksi Teivainen