Radiology of the future – launch EU project
MedTech – Radiology of the future is all about smart and fast image processing. Research and entrepreneurship are needed to actually achieve this. That is why Thirona (Nijmegen), Quirem Medical (Deventer) and the Radboud UMC are working together in the Radiology of the Future project to make smart image analysis available to everyone. The initiative is sponsored by ERDF with €1.5 million in total, with a view to strengthen the economy of Gelderland and Overijssel.
Radiologist can see right through us with the help of various devices. They make pictures of our body without cutting it. Thanks to the pictures – also known as imaging – physicians are able to assess the health of our organs. But this assessment can be better, faster and more inventive, according to Thirona, Quirem and the Radboud university medical centre (Radboudumc). To make this happen, they have launched the Radiology of the Future project with the help of a €1.5 million grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Thirona, a Radboudumc spin-off, develops algorithms for the analysis of medical images. Director Eva van Rikxvoort:
“With those algorithms – a type of Artificial Intelligence or AI – medical images are analysed easier, more accurately and more effectively. It takes some time to develop an algorithm that functions just as well as the average physician, or even better. But when it does, it offers substantial advantages. For example, it reduces the work pressure of doctors and contributes to a faster and more accurate diagnosis for patients. At present, Thirona analyses CT scans of the lungs for hundreds of hospitals worldwide on a daily basis, especially for COPD patients. In this new project, we are going to develop new algorithms for cystic fibrosis and for oncology.”
Quirem Medical, a spin-off of the UMC-Utrecht, produces small radioactive spheres (holmium microspheres) used mainly for treating patients with (metastatic) liver cancer. Director Jan Sigger:
“The spheres are injected into an artery and subsequently get stuck in the capillaries of the tumour. The tumour cells are killed by the local radiation from the inside. Imaging is essential for this treatment. To determine which patients are eligible, to follow the microspheres during the treatment and to determine the correct dose for each tumour. Imaging is indispensable in this form of precision medicine.”
Research and entrepreneurship
Professor of Medical Image Analysis Bram van Ginneken and medical biologist Frank Nijssen are involved in the Radboudumc project. “This is a good model for us to collaborate on.”, Van Ginneken says.
“We do our research here, and if the results are good, you can be certain that a company will do something with them. Unfortunately, that is not often the case. Moreover, we are all in the same region. A region where a lot is happening and where the interaction between research and entrepreneurship is well adjusted. The people trained in AI by us, used to by employed in other regions. Now, they go Thirona or Screenpoint Medical, another Radboudumc spin-off.” Nijsen has the same experience: “Technical medicine experts from the University of Twente like to work for us.”
For Van Ginneken, the project funded by ERDF should especially lead to the development of usable algorithms for oncology. “More and more possible treatment options enable cancer patients to live longer. It also means that more and more scans are made to monitor the course of the disease and treatment. Is the tumour growing or shrinking? Are more metastases occurring, and which are suited for treatment? In principle, such questions could be answered by smart algorithms that automatically read and assess the scans. We will be developing software that analyses images of colon cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and bone cancer. On that basis, the treatment team can make a more precise planning. This is the direction that we take in this research and development project. Translating knowledge in marketable products that benefit both patient and physician. That is how you make an impact.”
See what you do
This is also true for Quirem and Nijsen. They want to further refine and improve the treatment. For example, by being able to precisely monitor the course of the microspheres in the patient not just before, but also during the treatment. Nijsen: “Our microspheres can be made visible during the treatment. If you know where they get stuck, you can also calculate the radiation that is emitted. That dose can then be compared, during the treatment, to the dose needed to really attack the tumour. With the MITeC, the Radboudumc is one of the few in Europe that has a number of innovative operating theatres in which we can effectively research and develop this. You can see immediately what you are doing. It would be good if we, as the result of this project, can automatically calculate the location and size of the tumour, followed by an advise on the optimal radiation dose. Such are the vistas of the Radiology of the Future.”
Boost for innovation
“This ERDF contribution fits in seamlessly with the new emphasis in the economic policy of the province of Gelderland.” says Gelderland representative for Economy Christianne van der Wal. “The Arnhem-Nijmegen region is home to companies with great innovative capacity that contribute to solutions for the health care sector. I am happy that these innovations are given a boost in this way.”
Thirona develops computer algorithms for medical image analysis, currently focused mainly on CT scans of the lungs. Thirona is a Radboudumc spin-off, founded by Eva van Rikxvoort and Bram van Ginneken in 2014. The company is located in Nijmegen and has more than 30 employees at present.
Quirem Medical develops holmium microspheres that are used mainly in the treatment of liver cancer. Quirem Medical is a UMC Utrecht spin-off, founded by Jan Sigger and Frank Nijsen in 2012. The company is located in Deventer and currently employs over 30 people.
ERDF/OP Oost The operational programme (OP) ERDF East Netherlands 2014-2020 is a joint funding programme of the provinces Overijssel and Gelderland and works towards a structural strengthening of the economy of Gelderland and Overijssel. ERDF stands for European Regional Development Fund.
Read more on startup funding