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Our alumna Minna Kellomäki: We researchers tend to be deeply passionate about our work

Published on 20.8.2021
updated on 23.11.2021
Tampere University
Professori Minna Kellomäki
Minna Kellomäki is a professor of biomaterials and tissue engineering at Tampere University and head of the Academy of Finland’s Centre of Excellence in Body-on-Chip Research. A distinguished scientist, she is passionate about making new discoveries, working at the interface of scientific disciplines and collaborating across disciplinary boundaries. Minna maintains an open dialogue with her research group and strives to be more of a supportive coach than a distant leader. She spends her free time outdoors with her large furry family and also enjoys needlework: she can whip up a pair of socks in next to no time.

“I started my studies at the then Tampere University of Technology in Hervanta. I set out to specialise in finance but soon found out that my real passion was technology. I graduated with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering but with a strong focus on materials engineering. I am so old that there was no degree programme available in materials engineering when I went to university,” Minna Kellomäki laughs.

A head of a research group is more of a coach than a leader

“Ever since my graduation, I have carried out research on biomaterials. Before completing my doctoral degree, I worked for a year at the University of London, Queen Mary College. I wrote my dissertation on the application of biomaterials in tissue engineering when the field was still in its infancy, although Tampere University of Technology had already established an international reputation for excellence in biomaterials research in the 1980s,” Minna reminisces.

“My research group is currently very much focused on studying soft materials known as hydrogels.”

According to Minna, the best part of her job is being able to undertake multidisciplinary research at the interface of disciplines. New insights and discoveries that open up yet new avenues of exploration are a major source of inspiration for researchers who have both the right and the duty to be curious and questioning.

“We researchers tend to be deeply passionate about our work. For most of us, research is a way of life rather than a nine-to-five job.” 

Minna maintains an open dialogue with her research group and strives to be more of a supportive coach than a distant leader.

“My job is to inspire my group, identify and refine potential research topics, and work together with researchers to determine how we can move forward with different ideas. It is also important to encourage and be open to new ideas, even though occasionally it is necessary to narrow down choices and steer the direction of our research,” she notes. 

Science needs advocates

“I contribute to societal debate and discussion from my specialist perspective. I have given countless interviews to different media and actively participate in events that are designed, for example, to encourage girls and young women to study technology or introduce schoolchildren to tissue engineering. I often speak in scientific events, take part in panel discussions and help bring science to the public.”

“Translating research findings and new concepts into practice to benefit people and develop commercial products is a process of its own and requires further effort and resources. The route from research findings to a finished product is by no means clear-cut, but what matters to us researchers is that our research benefits people and finds its place,” Minna emphasises.

Scientific breakthroughs are the result of years of meticulous fundamental research. Complex problems cannot be resolved without a multidisciplinary team of researchers, each specialising in a different field.

“When researchers are looking to shed light on a given phenomenon, they must become familiar with all the underlying fundamentals and cause-and-effect relationships. They cannot take things at face value but must be critical and look beyond the obvious.”

“Despite our research groups receiving the majority of their funding from external sources, we would not be able to carry out research without Tampere University. By providing us with a community, connections, facilities, equipment and support, the University enables us to do much of what we do,” Minna says.

The Centre of Excellence in Body-on-Chip Research brings together expertise in technology and biosciences

Headed by Minna Kellomäki, the Centre of Excellence in Body-on-Chip Research (CoEBoC) seeks to combine technological and biological expertise to develop a unique new body-on-chip concept. The body-on-chip system is usually built on a microfluidic platform that allows cell culture medium to flow through and supply the cells – which are formed from differentiated

The goal of the Centre of Excellence is to grow heart, liver, nerve, bone and adipose tissues complete with blood vessels and neural pathways. The cells are suspended in a hydrogel or a three-dimensional scaffold that mimics living tissue. The body-on-chip is designed to emulate not only healthy but also diseased and damaged human tissue.

“The body-on-chip helps us to understand, for example, how heart tissue damage affects heart muscle cells and other tissues. We can also use the system to replicate the human body’s response to drugs and, with the help of computer modelling, apply our acquired knowledge to better understand human physiology. Our research requires seamless collaboration between multiple disciplines and specialists,” Minna points out.

Text: Minna Puntila
Picture: Silja Viitala

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