Medical technology in Twente is doing very well, in part thanks to financial support from Europe. Last summer, the region’s medtech cluster received over 11 million euros worth of REACT-EU funding, and four projects are now underway to develop groundbreaking innovations. One of these is ReMIND, which aims to develop special technologies in the fight against dementia. “Special chips can replace animal testing,” says researcher Marieke Olsman of Demcon, who is involved in reMIND.
The medical technology cluster in Twente will make great strides over the coming period. It was already going in the right direction. The large number of start-ups and larger medtech companies, combined with the vibrant university, are creating a healthy ecosystem. The Kennispark science park is a popular medtech location and has a significant role to play, as does WTC Twente as a driver of international collaborations, and Novel-T, which is responsible for a healthy ecosystem in the region. But the millions in funding are giving researchers and companies an extra boost. From a painless way of detecting breast cancer, to the development of bio-, gas- and liquid sensors: the four medtech initiatives from Twente that have been awarded the European funds are working on innovative solutions for healthcare.
Over 1.5 million euros has been granted to ‘reMIND’. The aim of the project is to bring together various technologies and further develop them to advance the treatment of dementia. Demcon, Micronit, Locsens, the University of Twente and Scinus Cell Expansion are the consortium partners in the project. The administration of medication in cases such as Alzheimer’s disease poses major challenges. The blood-brain barrier forms a physical barrier that is highly selective in letting substances through to the brain. It is therefore difficult to administer medication inside the brain. With the aid of a new device, which is being developed within the consortium, it will be possible to deliver the medication to the right place in the brain.
Additionally, the reMIND consortium is also working on optimizing an organ-on-a-chip model and testing equipment from Micronit and Locsens, which can be used to examine how the blood-brain barrier can be ‘opened’ in a controlled manner. “Often new technologies are first tested on animals,” explains Marieke Olsman, researcher at Demcon. “Within the pharmaceutical industry, for example, that’s why there’s a real need for these kinds of models as a way to reduce the number of animal experiments, and to improve and speed up the development of drugs for complex disease conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease. For this kind of research, you have to contend with an awful lot of factors, which inevitably means that you need lts of laboratory animals to be able to examine everything properly. By using the blood-brain barrier on a chip, the separate and combined effect of many of these factors can already be studied, which in turn will lead to far fewer laboratory animals being needed.”
The consortium is delighted with the grant and sees the ongoing project as a much-needed step to move healthcare forward, emphasizes Dennis Schipper, the CEO at Demcon. “During the pandemic, everyone noticed that there are huge pressures on healthcare. The aging population and related diseases, such as dementia, are also creating even more pressure. Innovation is needed to keep healthcare staffed and affordable.”
Innovative bio, gas and liquid sensors
A second consortium is focusing on the development of different types of bio, gas and liquid sensors. These sensors can help in the medical field in the detection of diseases. A total of 2.5 million euros was allocated to the project, which involves cooperation between LioniX International, Bronkhorst High-Tech, SurfiX, Qurin Diagnostics and PHIX.
LioniX International designs, manufactures and assembles photonic chips that are instrumental to the project. These chips use light instead of electricity. René Heideman, CTO of Lionix, is enthusiastic: “Photonics chips (chips that work based on light and are more economical compared to regular chips, ed.) are becoming increasingly important in medtech. We’re already managing to showcase some great applications for it through this project.”
PhiX from the Dutch city of Enschede is also involved in the development of the biosensor, which can be used to detect diseases such as cancer and other types of infections in the body. Initially, they will be used outside the body over the next few years, by clicking the sensor into a diagnostic device. Among other things, the chips are capable of measuring blood levels. Albert Hasper, CEO of PhiX: “We are making a module in which the biosensor can be encased. We need to make sure that it is not damaged by substances from the body or by excessive temperature levels, for example. At the moment, we are in the phase in which we get to test the prototype.”
Hasper is also pleased with the recognition from Europe. “The knowledge we gain in this project can soon be used in other medical projects that we can work on together with knowledge institutes and companies here in Twente. This is how we strengthen med tech in the region, and consequently the healthcare system.”
Even more innovations
Two more projects also received funding from Europe. A med tech project aimed at detecting breast cancer was awarded 2.6 million euros. The focus of the consortium is on introducing photoacoustic mammography to patients: a safe and painless way of detecting breast cancer through the use of light and sound. Parties collaborating in this project are PA Imaging, Hemabo, along with the University of Twente in conjunction with RadboudUMC.
ILT Fineworks from Enschede was the recipient of 1.7 million euros. The company is involved in the industrialization of the ELENA Heart Technology, this entails a revolution in cardiac surgery whereby a bypass can be performed on the heart without opening up the chest or the use of a heart-lung machine.
Continuing to grow
Thanks in part to European support, med tech in Twente now has the opportunity to grow even further. Schipper is confident that this will be the case. “Medtech is booming, especially here in Twente. I can also see that when I look at how big the med tech branch at Demcon has grown over the past ten to twenty years. So now there is a solid basis in place for pushing medical technology, and with it healthcare, to a higher level. In the future, we will undoubtedly get to see more wonderful projects pass through. Then the world will sit up and take notice: ‘Look, there are some very interesting things happening in Twente.”
Also read the first story in the series about the REACT-EU funds.