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Professor Jari Hyttinen is Tampere University's Inventor of the Year 2021

Published on 15.2.2022
Tampere University
Jari Hyttinen
“I would like to do much more work related to inventions,” Jari Hyttinen says. “Getting new ideas is a lot of fun and I like it a lot. Even at home, I like to work on my own and look for solutions to problems where someone else might go to an outside source. I am quite handy with tools. The key is probably the wish to think about a solution, experimenting and seeing how things could work and completing the inventions.
Jari Hyttinen, professor of biomedical technology, has received Tampere University’s Inventor of the Year 2021 prize. Hyttinen is credited with several medical inventions and patents. He is, for example, one of the inventors of the Injeq smart needle and serves on the board of the company that manufactures it.

“In 2021, Hyttinen was involved in five different inventions, either as the sole inventor or together with others,” says Juho Väisänen from Tampere University's Research and Innovation Services.

According to Väisänen, Hyttinen has been an active inventor during his professorship, and several companies have been set up based on his and his research team’s inventions.

“Hyttinen’s example has helped to create a positive culture of commercialisation and exploitation of research results in his research group, the surrounding research community, and the Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology,” Väisänen adds.

The Inventor of the Year is selected by the University’s Innovation Services.

Measuring bioimpedance connects the inventions

Hyttinen does not remember outright how many patent applications or patents he already has to his name but guesses that there have probably been 12 applications that have resulted in 7–8 patents.

He estimates that he has submitted approximately twenty invention disclosures to the University. Of these inventions, the University has taken 7 or 8 on board, but, for one reason or another, it has not gone as far as patenting them, for example, because they were created as part of projects funded by third parties.

“Many of them are related to measuring bioimpedance. All of them have some connection to biology or the measuring of human biological properties,” Hyttinen says.

Bioimpedance detection is based on different tissues conducting electricity in different ways.

Of the inventions that have been commercialised and licensed, Hyttinen mentions a method for diagnosing asthma in children in which their breathing is measured by bioimpedance. The invention and the research behind it were carried out by Hyttinen’s research group and he was part of the team that developed the method.

Last year, the university furthered four inventions Hyttinen reported. He kept the fifth because it was created outside the projects in what so-called free research. Those inventions are related to in-vitro cell activation, impedance measurement or in-vitro cell imaging.

A smart needle is the most interesting invention

Hyttinen thinks that the Injeq smart needle is the most interesting invention he has worked on. The invention is based on a sensor at the tip of the needle which measures the electrical conductivity of tissue.

A Tampere-based company has grown around the smart needle, which was granted a marketing authorisation within Europe in December 2021.

The smart needle can be applied to several purposes. The original aim was to develop a method to improve anaesthesia administered in the spinal canal. The first application to be marketed is related to the lumbar puncture of young children.

“Basically, almost everything where the smart needle is used is an injection or sampling where you do not fully know the exact location of the tip of the needle but must be precise about it,” Hyttinen explains.

The smart needle can be used to ensure that a tissue sample taken, for example, to detect liver cancer contains the tissue needed for diagnosis. Also in this case, the needle measures how electricity travels in the tissue and recognises the tissue type based on it.

An invention is often a solution to a clear problem

Many inventions are created of a clear need and that is also how the smart needle came to be. The need for it was expressed by Professor Riitta Seppänen-Kaijansinkko, who – after studying patient injuries – had identified the need for new methods to make doctors’ work easier. A third contributor to the invention was Katja Paassilta, Hyttinen’s student, who wrote her thesis on the topic. The invention is in the names of all three.

“Inventions often involve other people. The whole is the sum of many parts and can be improved by incorporating different viewpoints,” Hyttinen mentions.

“There was a real clinical need for the smart needle, and the invention began from that realisation. We got the basic principle very quickly and then we researched it and saw how it could work and how we could develop it,” he says.

Hyttinen also has another invention whose starting point is rather similar. That invention was created because cardiothoracic surgeons needed a method to ascertain how the sternum re-ossifies after open-heart surgery.

“We started by thinking how sound carries across the sternum. One of my students designed a device to measure how sound carries across the sternum in the skeletal structure. We can use the device to measure ossification because the way sound carries depends on how the sternum has ossified,” Hyttinen explains.

Aha experience is the easiest part of the process

“The first aha experience that this is the way to do it is the easiest part. Putting the idea to practice and furthering it is often much harder,” Hyttinen says.

“In our field – biomedical engineering – putting ideas to practice is very much about having a company and significant financial resources to get a method or application into production, clinically tested, and approved for the European or US market so that someone can buy it and use it. It is quite an endeavour,” he says.

Some inventions have no clear industrial or commercial value. In those cases, the ideas become scientific results and research articles.

The University has the resources to take inventions forward

From time to time, universities discuss the rights of inventors because, under the Act on the Right in Inventions Made at Higher Education Institutions, inventions made in an employment relationship belong to the employer or the funder of a project if these are the terms of the agreement. Hyttinen thinks that the debate is good, but he has a clear view on the issue.

“If the University returns an invention to its creator, the creator must have a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and drive, and also the time to take the invention forward privately,” Hyttinen points out.

According to Hyttinen, the average time from the invention and patenting of a new biomedical technology to making it a clinical product with CE authorisation is about 10 years in Europe.

“If an invention is owned by the university, the university has experts who can evaluate the invention and perhaps go straight to patenting it and raising the funds for taking it forward. The current Business Finland and Research to Business funding are from a completely different planet to what innovation aid used to be. I think it is excellent that the university has this system,” Hyttinen says.

“The university will naturally take a share of the profits if there are any, but it has often been said that 1% of a million is better than 100% of zero,” he adds.


Photograph: Jonne Renvall