Two women chatting with one holding an infant
 Nordic Fit Mama offers a professional, safe and efficient way to deal with post-pregnancy issues in women’s bodies. Image: Nordic Fit Mama

Finland offers a healthy dose of ideas for healthcare

From digital health analysis and tracking tools to biomedical imaging and rehabilitation solutions, Finland is breaking new ground in healthcare.

Aleksi Teivainen

18.08.2022

Oura in August announced that its smart rings are now compatible with Natural Cycles, a Swedish birth control method based on basal temperature and menstrual cycle.

The partnership means that women using the fertility awareness-based birth control app no longer need to take their temperature every morning in order to track their menstrual cycle as the app can obtain their temperature directly from the Oura Ring. Users of the smart ring had long requested the possibility to track their cycle with the ring, a spokesperson at Oura told YLE.

A woman sitting on a windowsill with a smartphone in hand.

Oura in August announced a partnership with Natural Cycles, a Swedish fertility awareness-based birth control app. Image: Oura

Holly Shelton, director of consumer products at Oura, described the partnership as a “natural fit” given that research has shown that the ring can detect key temperature changes throughout the menstrual cycle, including increases around the most fertile period of the cycle, the luteinizing hormone surge.

The surge occurs before ovulation and decreases closer to menstruation.

“We are proud to officially launch this partnership and work alongside a company that is similarly committed to delivering advanced health tools to women at a time when it has never been more important,” stated Elina Berglund Scherwitzl, CEO of Natural Cycles.

While Natural Cycles has become the first contraceptive app be certified in the EU and the US, it has also been the subject of complaints following unwanted pregnancies, including by 37 women in Sweden. A Swedish study concluded that the method has to be used carefully and precisely in order to be effective.

A woman takes a photo

Oura has garnered considerable acclaim in recent years, such as being one of the best inventions of 2020, according to TIME Magazine. Image: Oura / Facebook

The app promises an effectiveness of 93 per cent with typical use and one of 98 per cent with perfect use, making it more reliable than condoms or birth control pills.

Leena Väisälä, specialist in obstetrics, gynaecology and sexual medicine at Aava Medical Centre, reminded YLE that the effectiveness depends to some extent on the stability of the user’s menstrual cycle.

“Predicting the cycle phases is done mostly based on earlier cycles,” she pointed out.

Oura underscored that the smart ring alone is not designed for fertility tracking. A better understanding of the menstrual cycle through body-temperature trends, though, can yield significant benefits due to the hormonal changes associated with each phase and their effects on the heart and lungs, for example.

The impacts are often manifested as patterns in resting heart rate, heart-rate variability and respiratory rate.

University of Helsinki enhances biomedical imaging capabilities

The University of Helsinki in July said the Academy of Finland has granted it more than 600 000 euros for developing its biomedical imaging capabilities.

The funding will be used to acquire a positron emission topography (PET) scanner for pre-clinical use at Helsinki In Vivo Animal Imaging Platform (HAIP), one of the infrastructure platforms of the Helsinki Institute of Life Sciences. Such scanners are used in hospitals mostly to carry out neurological and oncological examinations.

Pipsa Saharinen, associate professor at the University of Helsinki, said the scanner will enable the platform conduct biomedical imaging on live tissue in real time, therefore making it possible to investigate dynamic pathophysiological events such as the functioning of inflammatory cells in malignant tissues.

“No other method can provide equally accurate information on the state of the body and cellular phenomena in living organisms,” she told.

A healthcare professional examining a scan on a computer screen.

Cutting-edge technology and well-functioning infrastructure are key for high-quality medical research, reminds the University of Helsinki. Image: University of Helsinki

Mirkka Sarparanta, associate professor at the University of Helsinki, added that the imaging technology is especially useful because it allows the quantitative examination of phenomena by measuring radioactivity directly in proportion to the concentration of the tracer.

Combining PET imaging with optical imaging based on fluorescent or bioluminescent markers and reporter genes, additionally, makes it possible to obtain in-depth information in real time on aspects such as disease mechanisms and the functioning of pharmaceutical agents in the body.

“By combining the two imaging techniques in what is known as multimodal imaging, researchers are able to monitor a wide range of processes simultaneously, including gene expression on the basis of a fluorescent market gene and the binding of radiolabelled drugs with their target receptors,” stated Saharinen.

The globally rare capability will have a number of applications, according to her.

“For instance, the passage of a drug under development into a malignant tumour can be investigated with PET imaging while the effects of the drug on the activation of the immune system can be investigated through optical imaging,” she elaborated. “To boot, these things can be done at the same time.”

Fepod draws first blood

Fepod, a Helsinki-based developer of blood analytics solutions, in June wrapped up a 750 000-euro seed-funding round led by Almaral.

Hand sholding smartphone and sensor

The analytics tool developed by Fepod provides results in seconds and requires sensors that are read with an affordable portable device attached to a standard smartphone. Image: Aapo Karhu

Supplementing a grant secured from Business Finland, the funding not only enables the startup to continue clinical trials and develop its sensor technology and software platform, but also triggers the transfer of the analysis technology from Aalto University.

“We’ve planned our path to [minimum viable product] and are now taking [the] first steps on that path,” Jussi Pyysalo, CEO of Fepod, commented to Health Incubator Helsinki in June.

The point-of-care analysis tool developed by the startup allows healthcare professionals to measure the concentration of paracetamol, opioids and other painkillers in a single drop of blood. The test is carried out with an ordinary mobile phone, a small potentiostat and mass-producible disposable sampling sensors, with the results available in seconds.

The European Innovation Council (EIC) and SMEs Executive Agency in June awarded Peili Vision a grant of 2.5 million euros for developing its virtual-reality products. The Oulu-based startup was also announced as one of the 74 companies selected from more than 1 000 applicants to this year’s EIC Accelerator Programme.

The 382 million-euro programme will boost each of the selected companies with up to 17.5 million euros in grants and equity investments, depending on its needs.

Students in a classroom.

Peili Vision’s VR-based solutions have been used, for example, to detect early signs of ADHD in a school in Kempele, North Ostrobothnia. Image: Max Fischer / Pexels

Peili Vision specialises in utilising virtual reality based on research findings to evaluate and rehabilitate neurological problems. CEO Jussi Auvinen viewed that the grant enables the seven-year-old startup to deepen its technological knowhow and elevate its products to an altogether new level.

Nordic Fit Mama, meanwhile, announced its foray into Italy in June.

The Helsinki-based startup’s digital health and wellbeing services for new and expecting mothers have become available on a new section of myspecialdoctor.it, an Italian health portal with about 500 000 visitors a month. Its six-week post-natal programme is focused in strengthening the core muscles and pelvic floor.

“Nordic Fit Mama’s digital approach is very unique and offers help and information for new mums in an easy and efficient way. We definitely see an interest among Italian mums and are very excited about the co-operation,” said Luigi Martinucci, founder of myspecialdoctor.it.

While Italy and Finland both offer free healthcare and pregnancy monitoring for expecting mothers, post-pregnancy rehabilitation is primarily the mother’s own responsibility.

Saara Hassinen smiles at camera
Healtech Finland in June reported that the value of health technology exports crept up by 3.6 per cent year-on-year to 2.52 billion euros in 2021. While the coronavirus pandemic complicated the exports of medical equipment, which fell by 0.6 per cent to 1.52 billion euros, the exports of in-vitro diagnostics jumped by 10.5 per cent to 920 million euros.

Saara Hassinen, CEO of Healthtech Finland, pointed out that the sector has created a cumulative trade surplus of 15 billion euros in the past over 20 years.

The export statistics, she highlighted, do not account for digital services and software as no sector-by-sector statistics are compiled on their exports. “The sector is therefore larger than the export figures indicate,” she wrote.

The US and China were the two largest destinations for health technology exports, accounting for 29 and 7.8 per cent of the total value, respectively. Europe saw its importance increase during the pandemic and made up 44 per cent of total exports in 2021, led by Great Britain, Germany and France.

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