Building Bridges: Sharing molecular medicine research technologies across Nordic borders

The new profile series “Technologies Advancing Molecular Medicine” highlights the people and activities in the technologies and core facilities in the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine. To kick-off the new series, we showcase the Building Bridges 2021 symposium: Technologies advancing molecular medicine – focus on Nordic infrastructures, held in December 2021.

view from under a bridge built out of pipes
Building Bridges Symposium 2021

The 10th Building Bridges symposium: Technologies advancing molecular medicine – focus on Nordic infrastructures, held in December 2021, provided a collaborative look into cutting-edge research technologies and demonstrated how the Nordic community is leading the way.

Hosted by the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) and organized by researchers and technology specialists from the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine, the symposium demonstrated significant advances made using the infrastructure available in the Nordic region, bridging research and technology development as well as scientists across borders. 

The one-day event and course for PhD students was supported by a grant from NordForsk to the Nordic EMBL Partnership for a Nordic Research Infrastructure Hub to stimulate training and mobility during 2021-2023.

With 140 registered participants, the symposium brought together scientists and specialists from eight countries including Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Wealth of diverse research technologies on display 

The program featured talks, pitches and discussions on a wide variety of research technologies. The bookends of the program featured opening and closing keynote talks from EMBL Heidelberg. Opening the program was Oliver Stegle, DKFZ and EMBL Heidelberg group leader describing single cell resolution from genotype to phenotype. Closing the day was Simone Mattei, team leader at EMBL Heidelberg, putting on display the EMBL Imaging Centre and the development in cryo electron microscopy (cryo-EM) there.

The morning session offered high resolution technologies such as single cell analyses, drug screening, cryo-EM, genomics, metabolomics, and bioimaging. The session was chaired by Pirkko Mattila, FIMM senior researcher and head of the Single Cell Analytics unit, and Vilja Pietiäinen, FIMM senior researcher/team leader and co-director of the High Content Imaging and Analysis unit. 

On display in the afternoon session were model organisms and case studies on characterizations and structures. The session was chaired by Nikolina Sekulic, group leader in structural biology and chromatin from the Centre for Molecular Medicine Norway (NCMM) and Thomas Boesen, senior researcher and cryo-EM facility manager at the Danish Research Institute for Translational Neuroscience (DANDRITE).

Inspired by research collaboration and technology co-development 

A wide range of research and technology collaborations were highlighted throughout the symposium. Speakers, participants and organizers, alike, engaged in the openly collaborative spirit. 

Ahmad Ali-Ahmad from NCMM gave a talk on cryo-EM structures of centromere complexes, a project that involved a visit to the cryo-EM facility at the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine (MIMS) at Umeå University, Sweden. Ahmad describes his experience:

Participating in the 10th Building Bridges symposium was a great opportunity for me to connect with Nordic structural biology infrastructures, which might initiate possible collaborations in the future. During my talk, I highlighted the importance of such partnerships by presenting new results that we couldn’t have gotten without our joint work with Linda Sandblad at MIMS and Michael Hall at UCEM (Umeå university).

Björn Schroeder, a group leader at MIMS presented his team’s research on dietary effects on gut microbiota metabolites and collaboration with Anni Nieminen head of the Metabolomics Unit at FIMM. Björn reflects on the collaboration:  

For us it is a great opportunity to build a bridge with the Finnish node and to answer a question that we couldn’t tackle just by ourselves. We are especially excited that our early-career scientists will have the chance to learn about metabolomics in Helsinki.

As a member of the organizing team and a participant of the symposium, Vilja Pietiäinen explains the impact further, 

I gained a lot of insight into different types of ongoing research and technology collaborations, and also got to know people from different nodes, even though the seminar needed to be held remotely due to the pandemic, in a last-minute change. I enjoyed seeing cutting-edge examples of successful collaborative projects – not only regarding their scientific contributions in molecular medicine, but also the simultaneous co-development of technologies. All this happening through real teamwork is really empowering!

Nikolina Sekulic was also a member of the cross-node organizing team and reflected on her experience in planning a symposium on this topic:

It was very challenging to organise this meeting due to ever-changing Covid regulations and wide diversity of topics and techniques that we aimed to cover. However, I was so pleased with the result. The meeting went really smoothly and talks were engaging and accessible to a wide audience. I feel I really learned a lot about available technologies and efforts going on in other Nordic EMBL nodes, and I already have some unexpected ideas for collaborations. 

And her view on developments and future opportunities:

It was also extremely enlightening to hear keynote speakers and cutting-edge technologies they are developing at EMBL. The brand new imaging centre is really designed to move boundaries of what is possible and provide understanding of atomic structures in the cellular context. The fantastic new cryo-EM imaging centre at Aarhus (DANDRITE) presented by Thomas Boesen, is making sure Nordics are not lagging behind.


Molecular medicine and translational research rely on advanced technologies. The diverse research areas in the Nordic region are united through their complementary technological approaches, requiring the sharing of knowledge and core expertise across borders. As Vilja Pietiäinen recaps, “we hope that the meeting gave all the participants new ideas and will open interesting possibilities for future scientific projects, by building bridges between researchers and infrastructure in Nordic countries as well as with EMBL.”

Find out more about these and other research infrastructures at the Nordic EMBL Partnership and get in touch with your collaboration ideas.

Building Bridges Symposia

The Building Bridges symposia series is arranged to bridge basic, translational and clinical research and provide examples of how teams of investigators are working together to advance molecular medicine. The symposia highlight collaborative efforts towards, ultimately, a better understanding of the pathophysiology of disease and improved options for patient treatment and care.