How can we safeguard the quality of healthcare in the future? What do we need to tackle the problem of an aging population, with all of its associated afflictions? Who is able, and who dares to work with bio-based raw materials instead of oil-based raw materials? How can we produce chemicals, materials and energy without exhausting our resources? All of these are interesting challenges for innovative, enterprising people.
It takes extraordinary talent to get a team of physicians, researchers and product developers to work together and manage them so that everyone benefits.
The real question is: who dares to take on the challenge? Or, as Daniëlle Curfs, biomedical program director at InSciTe maintains, "You can only do that with a full team of leading specialists -and, even then, the right combination of specialists- who can work together to perform this kind of miracle. InSciTe creates the environment in which scientists and entrepreneurs can collaborate to produce smart healthcare materials -today and tomorrow- and materials that are less harmful to the environment."
She ran past me as I approached the InSciTe building entrance. I believe in people who devote their energy to being first with the answer. They are people who have something special to offer. In the case of Daniëlle Curfs, that does not mean that she wants to be in the spotlight, -far from it- in fact she’s modesty personified. She prefers to talk about the results of the collaboration of which she is a part. Everything is subordinate to the team.
We can come up with a smarter solutions to even the toughest problems
Daniëlle Curfs wants to see -and show others- that we can come up with a smarter or better solution for even the toughest afflictions. Take for instance the project to place a flexible implant under a patient's eyelid, ensuring that an exact dosage of medicine can be delivered to the eye.
To make that possible, she advocates professional collaboration between multiple parties, who by working together can make a real difference to human health.
Curfs wants to be involved in innovation that makes a difference – in something that ‘really matters’ – operating as part of a new generation of public-private co-operation. "We don’t think it’s enough just to build a program that lets us work better from a biomedical point of view. We are also aiming to create an institute together and use smart solutions to help reduce the cost of healthcare."
By combining the creativity, experience and technical ingenuity of a team of specialists, we are bringing companies a step closer to concepts they can ultimately put into practice.
Combining the Right Specializations
"What we do is combine the creativity, experience and technical ingenuity of a group of smart thinkers. Everything we do is always preceded by research. This usually involves researching more or less proven ideas and concepts produced by the university but that are not yet ready for a company to take on. It’s on this middle ground that we focus. For our part, we deploy the right people to bring concepts like these a step further. If you succeed in achieving it, that’s when it becomes attractive for other parties. That’s when they say, 'Hey, we can sell that!'."
What's in it for you?
"In fact, companies buy a concept from us that they can use themselves in the form of a comprehensive material data package. So they have clinical grade material. They have to compile a portfolio for this to in order to procure official approval so they may proceed further. That requires them to generate a great deal of data." She points to a book about 30 centimeters thick. That's a pretty big body of evidence! "All the work that we do here contributes to that package. So, at the end of the process, you have the most complete package possible that a company can use to commercialize it. We're not there to commercialize new products ourselves but we do everything that's needed to bring products to the market."
InSciTe was initiated by DSM, Maastricht University and Maastricht University Medical Center (MUMC+), Eindhoven University of Technology and the Dutch Province of Limburg. The Province contributes by way of an investment fund that Brightlands manages.
"As an example," Curfs continues, "we work a lot to repair cartilage." I bring up the subject of the ankle of former footballer Marco van Basten, just to check whether I'm still on the right track and, yes, Marco van Basten's ankle was just such a cartilage problem. "It always used to be that you got a metal implant. But metal is a lot harder than cartilage, so it ended up doing more harm than good.
These days there are many more plastic implants. Plastic is not as hard. In our role, we want to use an implant that is hard-wearing and built so that it can release medicines locally and ensure that the cartilage itself starts to regenerate."
"The aim is to have the tissue repair itself and let the implant degrade within a certain time, because we don't want any foreign materials in the body. That used to be impossible but now we see this approach as a sort of temporary bandage that helps the body to cure itself. It's temporary and eliminates itself afterwards! That's what we do for cartilage and now for blood vessels as well. We regenerate blood vessels by inserting a sort of template that attracts the cells that build new blood vessels. The more original blood vessel tissue the body can restore, the less foreign material it needs."
It isn’t difficult to make people afraid of what awaits us all in the future. The real question is: who dares to take on the challenge?
The Power of Impossibility
"It's a problem but, ultimately, a gratifying one. And thanks to Marco, we still know how painful and difficult that problem was to overcome. Here again, we can see that there is no better breeding ground for new and daring ideas than a major problem. Necessity is the mother of invention. That is the power of impossibility."
Pieces of the Puzzle
Every company and every researcher has it's own puzzle. But if everyone shares a part of their own puzzle, we can solve it quicker and better. And the knowledge that you acquire in doing so, results in more pieces for your own puzzle. It’s a case of give and take and learning to speak each other’s language.
This way of looking at the problems of society and tackling them by collaborating is typical of how InSciTe operates. In this respect the Brightlands ecosystem offers great possibilities to bring about real change with the right group of people, by collaborating, sharing experiences and searching together for the best possible solution. That's the Power of Impossibility.
"And get to manage all that. Isn't that great?"