Arriving on the Kuopio Campus from Ukraine, Leading Research Fellow Sergiy Kyrylenko was on a Marie Curie Staff Exchange in the University of Eastern Finland at the turn of this year. Back home in Ukraine, he works in the Biomedical Research Centre at the Medical Institute of Sumy State University.
The university is located some 30 kilometres from the Russian border.
“Here at the university, we just try to do our job. The real heroes are fighting on the front line,” Kyrylenko says.
“At our university, we have been able to resume research as close to normal as possible, although many students and staff members were evacuated. So far, Sumy has sustained less bombings than, e.g., Kharkiv, thanks to our heroic Armed Forces” he says.
“Our defenders have managed to repel the enemy: enemy troops were all around but not inside the city.”
According to Kyrylenko, the first month of the war was bad, as enemy troops were all around the city and over 100 kilometres deep into the country. There were sounds of heavy combat nearby and constant threats of artillery shelling. The future was completely uncertain. The university had many international students, almost all of whom left. There were blackouts for several days in a row, all experiments had to be stopped, and samples in the lab cryostorage facility were all ruined.
“Now, our lab is running relatively smoothly. It also helps that we operate on our own external funding, including several Horizon Europe projects, ERASMUS+ Jean Monnet Chair and Module projects, several grants from the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, Ukraine-Latvia bilateral projects, etc. Electricity, water, telephone and internet connections on campus have been restored. We don’t have to rely on candlelight to do research or charge our devices from car batteries anymore. There’s also no shortage of food and water, as communal services and businesses were able to adapt to challenging conditions quickly and efficiently.”
“We are receiving help from Finland and elsewhere, and we are grateful for it,” Kyrylenko says.
MXenes conduct electricity and are biocompatible
Kyrylenko’s history with the University of Eastern Finland dates back to 1998, when he worked at the University of Kuopio in research groups in neuroscience and biochemistry. In 2009, Kyrylenko left for Brno in the Czech Republic to do stem cell research. He stayed in Brno until 2013, thanks to Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND fellowship funding.
“Then, I was offered a wonderful opportunity to continue my stem cell research at the University of Campinas UNICAMP in Brazil, where I stayed for three years as a visiting professor.”
“After that, I worked for another year at São Paulo State University UNESP, on the campus Botucatu. It was a very exciting time: much of the research, especially at the UNESP, was conducted in Portuguese, which was quite challenging but also rewarding. Then, Brazil was hit by an economic crisis and getting funding for research became difficult. I moved to Ukraine in 2017 and worked as a lecturer in the Department of Public Health, until I switched to research at the Biomedical Research Centre.”
Kyrylenko is drawn to Finland not only by research, but also by personal ties, such as his grownup children who are living in the country. He and Professor Aku Seppänen from the Department of Technical Physics at the University of Eastern Finland have been friends for years, ever since meeting in judo practice of the Kuopio-based judo club Sakura.
Nowadays, Kyrylenko is engaged in research collaboration with Professor Seppänen. Both their universities are members of the ESCULAPE consortium, together with universities and companies from many other countries. The main task of the project is to explore new graphene-like 2D nanomaterials, MXenes, and use them to design conductive polymer scaffolds for, e.g., tissue engineering.
“MXenes are new and very promising nanomaterials that are being intensively explored in many fields of science and technology. MXenes have a very thin, two-dimensional structure, somewhat similar to graphene but with more attractive features. Biomedical properties of MXenes have been studied very little so far,” Kyrylenko explains.
“MXenes consist of atomic layers of transition metals, such as titanium, with carbon or nitrogen. They conduct electricity better than graphene, and they are hydrophilic, which makes the material more versatile than graphene. However, it is not yet clear how different physical and chemical conditions affect the material’s electrical conductivity. Exploring that is one of the main objectives of our project,” Seppänen adds.
“MXenes are a completely new material for our research group.”
The requirements set for biomaterials are strict. They must be non-toxic, recyclable and, above all, biocompatible with human tissues, if they are to be used in medical applications.