At Work With Biomedical Laboratory Scientists Miia Kokkola and Suvi Karvonen

Miia Kokkola and Suvi Karvonen work as biomedical laboratory scientists in Helsinki Urological Cancer Center

As biomedical laboratory scientists, Miia Kokkola and Suvi Karvonen’s job involves processing samples from research participants, generating laboratory requests, providing customer service, and participating in the development of research operations.

– I don’t know if there is a typical work day because it varies, Kokkola says laughing.

– On any given day, up to six visitors may undergo a biopsy, leading to an increase in the number of samples that require processing. Once the samples have been processed, they must be accurately coded into the system. During quieter periods, we can allocate more time to administrative tasks and explore ways to improve our processes.

Finding new solutions for prostate cancer screening

Kokkola and Karvonen work intensively on the ProScreen research study. The aim of the study is to find out whether a three-step screening protocol can effectively reduce prostate cancer mortality while reducing overdiagnosis.

The researcers in the project have randomly selected more than 30 000 men aged 55–67 years from Helsinki, Vantaa, Espoo and Tampere to be invited to participate in the study. After invitation letters are sent out to the selected men, Kokkola and Karvonen generate the necessary laboratory requests. Participation is voluntary and so far more than 7000 men have given their samples.

Biomedical laboratory scientist Miia Kokkola places samples to freezer to conserve them.

– When a PSA level of 3 or higher is detected from a participant’s blood sample, we send it to Sweden for analysis. If the results indicate an increased risk of clinically relevant prostate cancer, the patient will then be asked to undergo MRI. If a biopsy is necessary, we send the patient a home kit for collecting urine and stool samples prior to the procedure.

If a clinically significant cancer is found from the biopsy, the patient will be referred to treatment. If not, a new invitation will be sent to the participant after a few years.

Kokkola has been working with the project since it started in 2018. Karvonen joined the team last year.

– I find it very motivating to work in a long-term project that has been ongoing for several years. We still get new samples from men who first participated 2 or even 4 years ago, Kokkola says.

Working with a diverse group of professionals

Both Kokkola and Karvonen have been happy with their choice to work in a research laboratory. Kokkola gets to work with her hands which is something she’s always been drawn to – be it knitting or doing crafts. Karvonen on the other hand has been interested in the natural sciences since high school and enjoys the systematic nature of the job.

Biomedical laboratory scientist Suvi Karvonen processes blood samples from research participants.

– Working in a research laboratory alongside a diverse group of professionals is pretty cool! If you are curious about someone’s area of research, they are always happy to share their knowledge with you, Karvonen says.

– You also get a chance to build connections with professionals from many different organisations and areas of expertise, Kokkola adds.