Making The Invisible Be Seen- Biocenter Oulu takes research to the next level

Lauri Eklund, research group leader and coordinator in Light Microscopy core facility, talks about Biocenter Oulu, its offer for the private sector and goals for the future.


Oulu has a reputation as one of the most intelligent and innovative cities in the world. This is also due to the novel work that is being done in the biotech labs, which puts this city on the map. A leader in this field is, undoubtedly, Biocenter Oulu. It mainly focuses on biomedical research and has a lot to offer also to the industrial sector. Biocenter Oulu cooperates locally, nationally and internationally in research, education and as an infrastructure service provider with numerous organizations, such as universities, research institutes and biotech companies. It also belongs to the national Biocenter Finland research infrastructure network and several pan-European Research Infrastructure Projects (ESFRIs). Biocenter Oulu imaging core facility, which involves world-class devices, cutting-edge methods, and high expertise in the most requested imaging techniques, is a partner in the Euro-BioImaging ESFRI.


1.Tell us about Biocenter Oulu and its focus areas on imaging.

I believe Biocenter Oulu gathers the strongest assets of Oulu’s biotech and health related research. In Biocenter imaging facility we use advanced light microscopy technologies, for example, high resolution 3D imaging and non-invasive label-free techniques to investigate single cells and tissue structures. In combination with electron microscopy, these methods provide means to study health and diseases from molecular and cellular levels to the patients, in basic, preclinical, and clinical research settings. Biocenter provides infrastructure and expertise to both national and international scientific communities but also to industrial users.
Our imaging facility takes full advantage of digital technology as well as the most modern and custom made devices to see and analyze microscopic objects. One of our latest arrivals is a multiphoton microscope. Worth € 900,000, it is equipped with accessories for observing biological systems in living organisms at high resolution and speed. We are keen to introduce state-of-the-art technologies, which are not yet commercially available. In imaging technique development we collaborate with faculty of information technology and electrical engineering within Oulu BioImaging (OBI) network. We were, for example, the first in Finland to use the advanced light sheet microscope technique. It uses a focused light-sheet to illuminate the specimen and therefore allows cell and tissue imaging at high penetration depths while being minimally invasive. Another advance of OBI network is the development of tailored solutions for image analysis with the use of modern machine vison and computer learning -based methods.

2.You are a member of the OuluHealth ecosystem which aims to transform healthcare and improve the quality of people’s lives. How can an ordinary citizen benefit from what you do?

We combine science, knowledge and technology to deliver better healthcare services for the benefit of citizens. High quality research is one of the ways of improving already existing therapies, e.g. in cancer, and developing effective treatment for incurable diseases, such as, Alzheimer’s or another dementia. In many cases the development of evidence-based targeted pharmacological therapeutic approach is highly desirable. However, the common obstacles are limited understanding of molecular mechanisms of cause and progression of such diseases as well as the lack of appropriate model systems. Microscopic imaging allows, for example, tracking many cell functions and interactions with their surroundings and with other cell types. This helps to better understand how biological processes occur in the body, why certain diseases are caused and how they can be treated more effectively.
Biocenter provides open access to expensive instruments and skilled personnel who operate them. Our work certainly accelerates the implementation of innovations in clinical work. This, in turn, leads to better diagnosis and more efficient treatment.

3.What can you offer for companies from the private sector?

The demand for bioimaging has grown massively in biomedical research, industry and clinics. Currently it is one of the most important areas in technological development and innovations. Biocenter Oulu provides a platform for industrial end-users to test and develop novel imaging and medical products before their commercialization. By bringing together expertise in health and information technologies we are able to help companies to increase their competitiveness. Of note, our services are not limited to biomedicine, but can be also applied in a variety of other applications. One example is microscopic scale hyperspectral imaging. This is an emerging research and quality control technique for various industrial applications in the fields of mineral, pharmaceutical, agriculture and environmental sciences. This technique is not widely available yet, but we provide it as an open access service.

Examples of companies we have collaborated with or those who have used our services include: Admescope Ltd, Carbodeon Ltd, Paras Biopharmaceuticals Finland Oy, Senop Optronics, Sensapex Oy, Specim Spectral Imaging Ltd and UPM.

4. What motivates you at your work?

I like the fact that our Biocenter unit is an international environment full of researchers of different backgrounds. I am fascinated with the way we can combine unique expertise in novel imaging instrumentation, intelligent computer vision -based image analysis, expertise in optoelectronics and high-end disease model systems in the University of Oulu. Being a researcher requires inspiration and dedication especially when things do not go as planned and progress is slow. However, it feels great to be part of this team. I think my biggest motivation is the opportunity to discover the unrevealed things and work with talented people.

  1. What are Biocenter’s goals for the future?

I can say that Biocenter Oulu aims to support innovations in the bio sector, conduct research which will improve population health, and find new opportunities to cooperate with industrial users. This aim can be accomplished by stimulating closer collaboration with researchers, clinicians and the industrial sector in a dynamic research environment and providing modern infrastructure for academics as well as other users in Finland and abroad. Moreover, the Biocenter will continue the research which will result in better connections between human patients and preclinical models. Our vision is also that Biocenter Oulu will strengthen its position as a nationally and internationally recognized imaging center.



Joanna Seppänen

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