Bioeconomy goes hand in hand with cancer research in a joint project between UPM and FIMM

The Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), at the University of Helsinki and UPM Biochemicals have started a joint research project with the purpose of investigating the applicability of UPM's new cellulose-based gel material for cancer research.

The project focuses on growing cancer cells on a three-dimensional culture using UPM’s new biomaterial and studying the drug responses of the cancer cells. This exciting research project brings together two growth areas: bioeconomy and personalised medicine.

“One of the key challenges in experimental drug testing is being able to grow cells in a laboratory in an environment that resembles the human body,” says Senior Researcher Vilja Pietiäinen, who is responsible for coordinating the project at FIMM.

“We need better three-dimensional models for cell culture so that cells from cancer tissue would retain their distinctive characteristics also outside the body. Creating an environment that resembles tissue requires new types of materials.”

UPM concentrates on innovations related to the efficient and responsible use of recyclable and renewable wood biomass. The biomaterial used in this joint research project is a cellulose-based hydrogel developed by UPM. It is highly biocompatible with human cells and tissues and it can be used in three-dimensional cell culture.

“This joint project is a great opportunity for us to collaborate with an internationally recognised expert in their field and find new life science applications for our biomaterial. The hydrogel that will be used in the project is one example of our innovations in the field of bioeconomy. These innovations help us create new business opportunities related to the use of renewable biomass,” says Pia Nilsson, head of the GrowDex business at UPM Biochemicals.

FIMM, the academic partner in the research project, specialises in research into personalised medicine. The institute's high throughput screening unit allows researchers to determine the response of different types of cancer cells to hundreds of drugs in only a few days. The constantly increasing amount of data enables researchers to identify cancer cell characteristics that help predict the most efficient drug for each type of cancer. In time, this information will also help patients.

“We foresee that co-operation with UPM can help us build better cell models also for the needs of personalised medicine,” Vilja Pietiäinen continues.


More information:

Vilja Pietiäinen, Senior Researcher, FIMM, University of Helsinki, tel. +358 40 510 2546, e-mail

Pia Nilsson, Senior Manager, UPM Biochemicals, tel. +358 40 558 7829