The University of Eastern Finland has recruited new staff scientists who specialise in research infrastructure and research methodology.
The role of a staff scientist is new at the University of Eastern Finland, and it is a combination of various research roles: staff scientists are tasked with supporting and developing the university’s strong research infrastructures and research methodology. Also, senior-level researchers work in the staff scientist position, and research is part of their work.
Appointed as a staff scientist in early 2022, Kimmo Jokivarsi is an expert in PET-MRI imaging, and he maintains the related research infrastructure in the Biomedical Imaging Unit at A.I. Virtanen Institute for Molecular Sciences on the Kuopio Campus. Jokivarsi coordinates projects involving PET, MRI and CT scanners, he assists research groups and research projects in various studies, and he maintains and develops the related equipment.
In his new role, Jokivarsi can also make use of his natural interest in technology: he designs, builds and modifies holders, parts for the equipment, and various adapters.
“I’ve always liked technology. I’m interested in many different things, and I like to tinker with stuff. Here, I get to put my inventor cap on,” Jokivarsi says.
As part of his new role, Jokivarsi is involved in a comprehensive charting of the university’s research infrastructure. The objective is to gather all research equipment in a single database and make them available for browsing.
“The university is home to a vast number of different pieces of research equipment. We will chart them and list them in this new service, making it easier for people to find and share them for research,” Jokivarsi explains.
Magnetic imaging enables the preclinical examination a variety of things, such as various disease models, disease detection and treatment responses.
From shuttling between two continents to A.I. Virtanen Institute for Molecular Sciences
Kimmo Jokivarsi studied at the Department of Applied Physics on the Kuopio Campus, and he defended his PhD at A.I. Virtanen Institute for Molecular Sciences in 2009. His doctoral dissertation dealt with the development of MRI imaging for stroke research.
Inspired by a guest lecture by Professor Risto Orava, Jokivarsi applied for an internship at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, already during his basic studies. His interest in particles didn’t fade, and Jokivarsi was admitted to the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland to do his Master’s thesis. This served as a steppingstone to becoming a research fellow in Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, US, where he worked first on proton treatments and later on PET imaging.
A PhD position eventually brought Jokivarsi back to Finland and to A.I. Virtanen Institute for Molecular Sciences at the University of Kuopio. Jokivarsi continued shuttling between the two continents even after his PhD, as he returned to the US for a couple of years to work as a postdoc on PET imaging at Martinos Center in Boston – before finally coming back to Kuopio to set up a PET laboratory.
Kuopio has magnetic attraction
In recent years, Jokivarsi has been working in Professor Olli Gröhn’s Biomedical MRI research group at A.I. Virtanen Institute for Molecular Sciences, in the Kuopio Biomedical Imaging Unit which constitutes part of Biocenter Kuopio. The unit is part of a European bioimaging consortium and serves as a national centre for preclinical MRI imaging.
“Magnetic imaging enables the preclinical examination a variety of things, such as various disease models, disease detection and treatment responses. We are also looking into how MRI could be used to better chart and understand the functioning and structure of the brain. Our equipment is also used for cartilage and materials research by the Department of Technical Physics, for example.”
PET imaging, on the other hand, is based on radioactive markers and serves mainly as functional imaging. The method can be used for traditional purposes, such as analysing the spread and glucose metabolism of cancer, but it can also increasingly be used to find focal infections and to study various neurological diseases, such as the Alzheimer’s-induced accumulation of plaques in the brain.
“There are already many markers for imaging, and more are being introduced for different purposes. Our collaborator, Kuopio University Hospital, too, is active in marker research and in the development of new production methods,” Jokivarsi says.
According to Jokivarsi, Kuopio has “magnetic attraction” of a global scale, since the Savilahti campus area boasts a robust set of equipment and research expertise related to imaging. Currently, the university has five MRI scanners, with the total number of preclinical MRI scanners on the Savilahti campus area amounting to seven. The set of preclinical PET-MRI imaging equipment acquired on the campus just over a year ago is the first of its kind in Finland.
“We have a globally unique setting here. Thanks to infrastructure funding from the Academy of Finland and support from the EU’s Structural Funds, we have been able to acquire valuable pieces of equipment that provide state-of-the-art facilities for research. Considering that A.I. Virtanen Institute for Molecular Sciences is home to several internationally recognised research groups, the set of equipment and the expertise we have are mutually beneficial,” Jokivarsi points out.