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Profiling areas in focus: New soft materials reduce microplastics and animal testing

Published on 15.9.2023
Tampere University
Soft materials as a research topic bring together researchers from different fields. The SUSBIO project involves several research groups in the fields of medicine and health technology and technology at Tampere University. Photos: Jonne Renvall
Researchers are developing soft materials and their experimental and sustainable research methods in a multidisciplinary project for biomedical and toxicological studies. A research community across discipline boundaries focusing on soft materials is being developed. The Research Council in Finland granted the project a profiling funding of €3.5 million in spring 2023.

In the Sustainable Biomedical and Toxicological Research project the researchers study soft, biocompatible materials and research tools, especially for biomedical needs. The project is one of the four profiling areas at Tampere University funded under the PROFI 7 programme.

The focus is on the study of harmful substances by biomimetic methods imitating nature. The goal is to find new ways to model the human body, which could even reduce animal testing in the future.

“We are exploring specifically the potential of such soft materials as hydrogels and various plastics. The softness, size, or mechanical properties of these materials can react to environmental conditions. They can repair themselves, and they can be biodegradable. We believe they have much to offer in terms of biomedical research,” Professor Arri Priimägi, one of the directors of the project, says.

Several research groups from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology and the Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences at Tampere University are participating in the project. Minna Kellomäki, Professor of Biomaterials, who is also a responsible director of the project, says that in addition to the development of various research methods, the multidisciplinary group aims to influence legislation and other regulations in the field.

Future materials are biocompatible and biodegradable

The development of novel materials and in vitro research methods suitable for medical purposes creates entirely new possibilities for modelling the physiology of the body and tissues under laboratory conditions. With the help of new biodegradable functional materials, it is also possible to reduce the accumulation of microplastics in different living environments in the long term.

“At the same time, we are building a research community across discipline boundaries focusing on soft materials. Research in the field from diverse perspectives is already ongoing within the University in many quarters. We believe that when we bring researchers in the field together more closely, we learn from each other and gain new perspectives for research,” Priimägi and Kellomäki say.

According to them, the research topic unites researchers from different fields.

“There are at least 30 research groups that are somehow related to the topic. The operations of the Centres of Excellence in Body-on-Chip Research and Life-inspired Hybrid Materials funded by the Research Council of Finland are substantially connected to the new community,” Kellomäki mentions.

Open positions of Tenure track professor and postdoctoral research fellows in the field

The profiling funding is usually used for hiring new researchers. For universities, recruitment is a way to strengthen the research environment by, for example, bringing in new expertise and increasing and diversifying domestic and international networks. In autumn, a coordinator will be hired in the project directed by Priimägi and Kellomäki, and a tenure track professor is currently being recruited in the field of polymer chemistry. The next steps are focusing on aligning teaching provision, hiring new postdoctoral researchers, and providing seed funding for joint projects.

“Our project is clearly useful across faculty boundaries. In the beginning of 2024, we will launch a doctoral programme, in which we will hire postdoctoral research fellows in the field for three-year vacancies,” Priimägi mentions.

The content of the research project is largely adapted to the subject areas in which future postdoctoral research fellows specialise. The seed funding programme also enables approx. ten smaller collaboration projects, in which the groups may hire, for example, a joint master’s thesis student.

Biomimetic (in vitro) methods for sustainable biomedical and toxicology research

  • Research collaboration combining biomedical and engineering materials sciences is one of Tampere University’s profiling areas from 2023 to 2028. The project received funding of €3.5 million.
  • Researches and develops soft materials and methods for biomedical and toxicological research areas.

PROFI 7 funding from the Research Council of Finland

  • In early 2023, the Research Council of Finland granted funding to nine Finnish universities in the PROFI 7 call. Sustainable development and resilience were highlighted in the themes of the applications. The aim of the funding is to accelerate the strategic profiling of Finnish universities and support the improvement of the quality of research across the university landscape based on international peer review.
  • The Research Council granted Tampere University €8.2 million for enhancing the profiling of strategic research.
  • Four profiling areas are funded in Tampere University’s spearhead fields of technology, health and society.
    1) Century-Long Lives: individual, structural, and cultural adaptation to longevity (CLL)
    2) Sustainable Security Practices (SUPRA)
    3) Sustainable Biomedical and Toxicological Research (SUSBIO)
    4) System-on-Chip and Wireless Technology for Intelligent Machines

Read more about the profiling funding on the website of the Research Council in Finland.

Contact persons

Arri Priimägi
+358 44 515 0300
arri.priimagi [at] (arri[dot]priimagi[at]tuni[dot]fi)

Minna Kellomäki
+358 40 706 6312
minna.kellomaki [at] (minna[dot]kellomaki[at]tuni[dot]fi)

Text: Anna Aatinen
Photos: Jonne Renvall