Professor Niku Oksala sees multidisciplinary co-operation as a very important aspect of high-quality research
Text: Jaakko Kinnunen
Photo: Jonne Renvall
In February, Niku Oksala, Doctor of Medical Science and Philosophy, started to work as a professor of surgery at the University of Tampere. Oksala is a specialist in vascular surgery.
Oksala has invested a great deal into achieving excellent pedagogical skills. He has completed the University of Tampere's wide-ranging studies in university pedagogy as well as acquired the competence of being a specialist in medical education. He has also actively promoted the use of information technology in both research and teaching.
Doing his research, Oksala has created networks especially to Tampere University of Technology. He emphasises the meaning of multidisciplinary co-operation.
“It has always been clear to me that we should create research groups with people from both the human sciences and technology. This means we have competitive applicants when we are applying for external funding. At the same time, we can learn from each other the things that should be included in basic education. All this expertise can be utilised in developing new ways of working in the hospital environment. I actually consider my work to be Tampere3 plus one because Tampere Central Hospital lies at the heart of all the work that I do,” Oksala says.
Better measuring instruments enhance health care
In health care, and especially in the field of surgery, following up on a patient's vital functions and anticipating and rapidly diagnosing complications are very important. A great deal of his work is dedicated to tackling these challenges.
“I am developing new surgical technology and non-invasive sensors that can not only diagnose diseases but also monitor patients’ vital functions and improve their safety. In addition, I develop technology to optimise patient logistics,” Oksala says.
One example of Oksala's work is the development of better and more discreet measurement and monitoring devices for patient use. In addition to traditional systems for measuring vital signs, new technologies that the patient does not even notice have been developed. Such equipment can be installed e.g. in a patient's bed.
“We aim to develop unobtrusive instruments for measuring things that previously required cumbersome instruments attached to the patient. For example, we can measure whether the patient is conscious and how strong his or her breathing and heartbeat are. These three measurements could already significantly improve the position of patients in hospitals,” Oksala explains.
The patient's condition is automatically analysed
At present, a patient’s condition is monitored every few hours; for example, a nurse measures blood pressure by coming to the bedside and recording the results on a computer. Oksala and his research group are developing systems that include, for example, taking blood pressure readings and recording the results automatically and unnoticeably.
“In addition, these systems provide nurses with ready-made analyses on the condition of the patients and on who is getting better or worse. With this information, limited resources can be better targeted to patients who need them the most,” Oksala says.
For example, simple traffic lights can be processed from the data collected by an automatic system; the green light tells nurses that the patient's vital functions are fine, but if the light turns yellow or red, the nursing staff knows that the patient’s condition is getting worse.
“If we are performing surgery on an aneurysm, for example, we can use a real-time model to see how the arteriess are doing during the procedure. This information helps us to e.g. identify vascular diseases in people who up till then have not known that they are ill. In other words, we can use the information as a reversal model,” Oksala explains.
The reversal model also makes it possible to better predict which treatment is best suited for the patient and to whom the treatment should be targeted.
The ageing population has fragile arteries
Vascular diseases increase with age. Throughout the years, blood vessels contract and stretch countless times leaving a mark on them.
“Patients with advanced age have more severe conditions when we perform surgeries. Even if the operation is simple, recovery can take a long time because older people are more fragile,” Oksala says.
Because of higher risks, diagnosing diseases and administering the right kind of treatments are even more important than before.
“All the technology I have developed is specifically intended to detect complications and risks in good time,” Oksala says.
Tampere invites talent
While doing his research, Oksala works continuously with experts from different fields. He emphasises multidisciplinary co-operation and its importance in the development of medicine and technology.
“We need technological experts to tell us how to build new measuring devices. We also need programming specialists in order to be able to create functional software. And finally, medical professionals are needed to understand which problem needs to be solved and how that can best be tried in practice,” Oksala points out.
According to Oksala, Tampere has many advantages that attract highly-qualified researchers and experts to the region.
“Tampere is a place with an absurd amount of talent in a small area. Here, you can also live cheaply and safely. This atmosphere makes the region attract international, talented people to work with Finnish experts. Physical fitness issues are also solved because here you can cycle everywhere,” Oksala says.