New blood for healthcare technology innovation

The potential for new advances drawing on medical physics and biomedical engineering is vast. Cross-disciplinary expertise is needed to unlock it for the benefit of society and industry, say the partners in an EU-funded network that is helping 15 young researchers to hone the required skills.

The students enrolled in the EU-funded doctoral programme BIOMEP are conducting research that could lead to breakthroughs for the treatment of a variety of diseases, says project director Rami Korhonen of the University of Eastern Finland. These illnesses notably include osteoarthritis and cancer.

"The programme was designed to recruit outstanding applicants from around the world and help them to develop specialised expertise in biomedical engineering and medical physics," he explains. In total, eight universities in four countries – Italy, Finland, Spain and Sweden – are involved in the programme, which is due to run until the end of August 2021.

The handpicked young scientists supported by BIOMEP are working on their theses, which all 15 expect to have completed at that stage, Korhonen notes. Their research will advance the understanding of a variety of diseases and tissues, generating the type of fresh insight on which the development of new techniques and technologies relies.

And some are already shaping possible applications, although it is early days yet, Korhonen adds. "At this stage, with two more years to go, it is difficult to say what is going to be innovative. However, a preliminary assessment has concluded that at least five of these theses could potentially permit the creation of spin-offs."

An advanced programme...

BIOMEP supports research on bio-signals, brain-scanning techniques, and imaging at molecular, cell and tissue level, as well as two further lines of activity. One of these focuses on musculoskeletal biomechanics, exploring aspects such as human motion and the function of our joints. The other is dedicated to biomedical devices and diagnostics.

The institutions partnering in BIOMEP provide outstanding expertise in these areas, enabling the project’s early-stage researchers to engage with leaders in their field and develop collaborations that will stand them in good stead throughout their future careers, Korhonen notes.

And the cooperation extends well beyond this core network. Depending on the specificities of individual student’s research interests, secondments have also been arranged with eminent teams in other institutions in Europe and beyond.

...to advance medicine

This commitment to mobility is an asset not only to the researchers’ careers but also to the research itself, Korhonen points out. The chance to work with different teams exploring similar topics exposes students to techniques that may well turn out to be complementary, jointly shedding more light on a given topic than individual approaches might have generated in isolation.

BIOMEP also provides its experts in-the-making with opportunities to interact. "Common activities such as seminars are important to facilitate the transfer of knowledge – if students don’t meet, it is much harder for them to be inspired by other students, groups or professors," Korhonen points out.

The cost of the five-year programme – half of which is covered by the European Commission via the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme – is an investment in promising research careers that could eventually generate benefits for society, Korhonen says.

Medical technology is one area where Europe excels and continues to improve, but new generations of experts – in academia, in industry and in hospitals – are needed to feed this momentum, he underlines.

The collaboration launched in support of the programme is also on the move. While many of the partners involved had cooperated before, they had not done so on this scale and as a structured network – and they are already investigating further opportunities to nurture healthcare innovations, Korhonen concludes.


Project details

  • Project acronym: BIOMEP
  • Participants: Finland (Coordinator), Spain, Italy, Sweden
  • Project N°: 713645
  • Total costs: € 3 139 200
  • EU contribution: € 1 569 600
  • Duration: September 2016 to August 2021

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