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Kuopio Health ecosystem R&D actors in spotlight – UEF SIB Labs

Kuopio Health ecosystem R&D actors in spotlight – UEF SIB Labs

UEF SIB Labs Science – Innovation – Business operates as a part of the Department of Technical Physics at the Faculty of Science, Forestry and Technology of the University of Eastern Finland, which makes it a key part of research and education at the university. SIB Labs promotes the societal impacts of the university and reinforces networking in research. SIB Labs develops research infrastructures and services based on special expertise and carries out related projects.

Finland
Ecosystems
Ecosystems

UEF SIB Labs brings together and markets the top expertise and equipment infrastructure of the University of Eastern Finland. The expertise in research and equipment is focused on two main themes: imaging (electron microscopy, microspectroscopy and X-ray computed tomography) and materials (material testing, structure research, thermal processing of biomass, and separation, purification and analysis methods).

“The origins of the UEF SIB Labs are in the Department of Electron Microscopy, which continues to be a key part of our infrastructure and one of our areas of special expertise. While the university’s departments broadly use our equipment, we also provide businesses with access to our instruments. We have extensive experience in competence development in the materials industry, and we provide access to the top expertise of at least 200 researchers in our network as well as modern and versatile measurement and research equipment, all through a single contact. SIB Labs offers a proficient and easily accessed equipment environment with highly competent staff. Our multidisciplinary and constantly evolving equipment infrastructure has a value of nearly EUR 20 million and includes over 130 analysis and laboratory instruments, which have versatile applications”, explains Laura Tomppo, Manager of the SIB Labs services.

The expertise of the SIB Labs is based on long-term basic research in natural sciences, close cooperation with other internationally renowned research organisations as well as constant communications with business life. The operations aim to promote the transfer of technology and serve the research and development needs of science units and industry partners.

Multidisciplinary approach as a strength

“We’re involved in multiple research projects and are also members of different networks, including Biocenter Finland and the FinTomo network, which is focused on tomographic imaging. We are also collaborating with the Microsurgery Center of Eastern Finland and, together with Savonia University of Applied Sciences and Savo Consortium for Education (Sakky), we have created the joint Materiakeskus website that makes it easy to find materials research services in one place.

The SIB Labs Microscopy facilities play a significant role in the region in the fields of electron microscopy and imaging spectroscopy, including highly demanding special sample preparation techniques, particularly regarding biological specimens. We also provide surface characterisation and chemical content analysis services as consultation, cooperation or commissioned research for higher education institutions, research organisations and companies alike. Meanwhile, the services of our Biomaterials Laboratory include material testing and bioprocessing. The SIB Labs’ equipment also includes two X-ray computed tomography instruments capable of micrometer-level resolution.

“Our special strength is the fact that we offer versatile equipment and staff for the analysis of highly diverse samples under one roof. This combination of expertise from various fields and our multidisciplinary approach create a unique infrastructure in the region”, Tomppo summarises.

Senior Laboratory Technician Virpi Miettinen is presenting an ultramicrotomy at the sample preparation laboratory, used to cut ultrafine sections of samples for electron microscope images.

The sections are collected on a grid, which can be dyed to improve sample contrast.

“A transmission electron microscope (TEM) that can be used to examine microscopic structures from both biological and materials science samples at an up-to-atomic-scale resolution. There are no equivalent instruments anywhere else in Eastern Finland. The instrument is also used to examine  patient samples from the Kuopio University Hospital”, explains Laboratory Engineer Jari Leskinen.

A high-resolution scanning electron microscope (SEM) can be used to examine the surface structures of samples with high-resolution and to determine the elemental composition that the sample contains. The sample is placed in a vacuum chamber for the duration of the examination.

The SIB Labs Nikon XTH 225 X-ray computed tomography device can be used for imaging samples whose size can range from an ant to nearly a basketball size. This X-ray computed tomography device is also efficient enough for the imaging of metal samples. In this example, an asthma inhaler has been placed on the sample platform for imaging.

“The object can be a piece of a plant or wood, a plastic object, a small metal object, or a combination of these.  Insects, seeds, tablets and teeth are commonly used samples. We may also examine food items, geological samples, welding seams or 3D-printed objects. The smaller the sample, the more precisely we can scan it”, says project researcher Tuomo S. Silvast.

“We can use our equipment to examine the internal structure of objects, for example, and identify and measure things such as pores and pore size distribution”, Tomppo continues.

Custom services according to needs

“The main areas of our operations include analysis services for the industrial sector, our contributions to current projects, networking, and providing internal consultation, research services and equipment services for the university. For instance, we produce electron microscopy samples for researchers based on a full-service principle, and also scan and analyse the samples if necessary. We provide training related to our areas of expertise either independently, in connection with our projects or in cooperation with the university’s specialists from other unitsts. We can also organise training tailored to our customers”, Tomppo explains.

“We can carry out both individual measurements as well as offer more extensive service packages. For instance, if an anomaly is detected in a company’s process, we can analyse material samples here to determine what caused it.  We also conduct research on microplastics and have related competence. We determine our customers’ service needs through mutual discussions with them, and if necessary we can also assist them in carrying out related projects. If the customer has large-scale analysis needs, we can also train their staff to use the equipment instead of carrying out a commissioned study, which involves the company leasing time on our equipment in practice.”

The projects of the SIB Labs services are crucially related to the development of research methods and equipment infrastructure, applicable research topics and the production of commissioned research. The Materials Solutions in the Green Transition project carried out under the JTF funding from the Regional Council of Pohjois-Savo was launched in early 2024. Companies from several different industries are involved in the project, which includes broad challenges related to materials in the circular economy. The Direct Microplastic Exposure via Foodstuff and Food Packaging – Plastic Leachables and their Health Effects project led by Arto Koistinen is also in progress. We also have current projects related to biorefining, and we are planning new ones.

“I have been carrying out research in hard tissue histology as well as micro-CT and through this work, collaborated with SIB Labs. In both modalities, the research has concerned cochlear implants. Our cochlear implant electrode research has utilised the SIB Labs services in the context of both histology and micro-CT. We began our cooperation with SIB Labs after a need arose to obtain histological samples collected in preclinical trials and to perform analyses on them. This research collaboration has more recently also expanded to micro-CT. SIB Labs has been a rather essential player in the study, offering a service that would have been otherwise extremely difficult to gain access to. The SIB Labs staff and our contacts have been extremely helpful, and the knowledge and adoption of methods to suit the purposes of cochlear implant research by SIB Labs have played a critical role in our success. As far as I know, no one else is offering an equivalent service in our local region, so I feel that SIB Labs is a major player in the Kuopio region’s research infrastructure. A big thank you to SIB Labs, you’re doing great work and I hope we will continue our collaboration in the future”, explains Matti Iso-Mustajärvi, Deputy Chief Physician, ear, nose and throat specialist, Docent, Kuopio University Hospital.

“The companies developing health technologies also frequently face challenges and demands related to materials. UEF SIB Labs can help you with the related experiments and analyses. We can also serve as an unbiased party between material buyers and suppliers. We can nearly always find the contact you need if we cannot meet your demands with our in-house service selection. Whatever your research needs or questions, contact me and let’s find the solution that suits your specific needs”, Tomppo concludes.

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