In July 2021, Aqsens Health received hundred high-quality, cold chain controlled saliva samples from malaria patients from Dr. Linda Amoah from the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Accra, Ghana. And a few weeks later, with the collaborative help from the Finnish and Danish Foreign ministries, Dr. Amoah’s research visit to Aqsens Health’s laboratories in Finland was confirmed.
Cooperation in the midst of the pandemic
The last few years have been quite difficult in terms of travel and international cooperation. Many research collaborations have had to be put on hold as the pandemic situation got worse all over the world, and the rules for travelling became exceptionally complex. Building well working international partnerships and the transportation of biological or medical samples became a real challenge for both big and small companies alike.
Despite these complicated circumstances, Aqsens Health and Dr. Linda Amoah from the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research were able to begin a new and exciting research collaboration in the winter of 2021. But naturally the project faced some new challenges that wouldn’t have been a problem a few years prior.
The first hurdle after implementing strict quality controls for the collection and transportation of saliva samples from the rural areas in Ghana to a deep freezer at Noguchi was arranging the transportation of the samples from Ghana to Finland. It took a little bit of extra work, but in the end the samples arrived quickly and in perfect condition. The next, arguably the more difficult step, was arranging for Dr. Amoah to come to Finland to do further research and to learn about E-TRF and see us start the analytic process.
Taking on the challenging travel arrangements
Traveling in the time of COVID-19 is still, nearly two years after the first cases were reported, very challenging. Even as more and more people are fully vaccinated, the different variants of the virus have made the situation difficult in many nations. The rules related to safe travel are unclear and constantly changing. At Aqsens Health, Dr. Amoah’s travel and sample transportation arrangements were handled by Aqsens Health’s COO Riikka Erkkila. She recounts the complicated process.
“As Linda could not visit the closest Finnish embassy in a neighbouring country due to covid travel restrictions, it was first difficult to try and get a visa for her – but luckily we got help from our foreign ministry and with their assistance, the embassy of Denmark was able to process her a Schengen visa allowing her to also come to Finland,” Riikka explains.
The most challenging part of the process was keeping up with the changing restrictions and travel requirements.
“When we started the process, the covid restrictions in Finland also required a special permission from the border control, which we applied for and got in a very timely manner, but now it’s not even required as Linda has two vaccinations. Still, we will naturally closely follow all health related safety measures to ensure her safe stay here in Finland,” Riikka adds.
“But after the visa and approvals from border control were in place, everything was rather simple. Often things like this just require persistence and that you closely follow the guidance given by officials – and in some cases, also patience. In this case a big thanks also goes to all governmental offices that were involved, as they were very helpful and played an important role in making this happen,” Riikka concludes.
Dr. Amoah arrived in Turku at the end of August, and the team in Finland is excited about being able to get an insight into Dr. Amoah’s research into malaria and malaria Rapid Diagnostic Tests, and all diagnostic and primary data related to the saliva samples.
Making the most of her time in Finland
Dr. Amoah’s first full day in Finland is full of activities from presentations to getting to know our laboratory facilities. She looks forward to learning more about our methods and technology.
“I am excited to be going to the lab to see the E-TRF assay, and maybe even get to try my hands at the assay,” Dr. Amoah explains.
Dr. Amoah has travelled to Northern Europe before, but this is her first time in Finland.
“I have been to a few Nordic countries but never Finland and so I am excited to come experience Finland. It is unfortunate that the pandemic is still raging so it’s likely I will experience just the work atmosphere,” Dr. Amoah adds.
Aqsens Health’s COO Riikka Erkkilä hopes that the laboratory team and Dr. Amoah can really delve into the specifics of E-TRF.
“Our top priority is to give Linda and our science team enough time in the laboratory and the office to really dig into the analysis and development work. This will be complemented by meeting with our selected collaborators in Finland, and of course by some selected experiences in the Finnish nature, for example, to ensure enough recovery moments between the important working sessions we’ll be having,” Riikka explains.
Expanding the collaboration in the future?
In the future, both parties are excited to continue the collaboration and possibly expand the research to other diseases.
“I am hopeful that we will be able to expand the collaboration to include other diseases soon. But it of course depends on how this project will progress and if we are able to secure additional funding,” Dr. Amoah summarises.
“It’s truly energising to see that even during these challenging times, it’s still possible to advance international collaboration and important scientific research. We’re looking forward to seeing the results of this project and start discussions about widening our collaboration to other areas as well. This strengthens our belief towards other international projects becoming more active, and new ones initiated again,” Aqsens Health’ COO Riikka Erkkilä says.
Being able to have Dr. Amoah visiting our laboratory in person is an incredibly valuable experience during these unusual times. The research collaboration will continue, and we’re excited to publish the first results as the project progresses further.