Radiology of the Future revolves around smart and fast image processing. Achieving this requires research and entrepreneurship. This is the reason that Thirona, Quirem, and Radboud university medical center work together in the Radiology of the Future project to make smart image analyses available to everyone. ERDF promotes this initiative with a view to strengthening the economy in Gelderland and Overijssel.
Radiologists see right through us with all sorts of equipment. They create images of our body without opening it up. Thanks to this imaging, doctors can assess whether our organs are healthy or not. But this assessment can be better, faster, and more inventive, according to Thirona, Quirem, and Radboud university medical center. With over 1.5 million euros in funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) they launch the Radiology of the Future project.
Thirona, a Radboud university medical center spin-off, develops algorithms for medical image analysis. Director Eva van Rikxoort: “Medical images can be analysed easier, more accurately, and more effectively using the algorithms, a type of Artificial Intelligence or AI. It takes some time to develop an algorithm that functions just as well as the average physician, or sometimes even better. But it has great advantages. For example, it reduces work pressure for physicians, and can contribute to a faster and more accurate diagnosis for patients. Currently, Thirona analyses CT scans of the lungs, particularly for patients with COPD, for hundreds of hospitals worldwide on a daily basis. In this new project we will develop new algorithms for cystic fibrosis and oncology.”
Quirem Medical, a spin-off from UMC Utrecht, produces small radioactive spheres (holmium microspheres) used mainly for treating patients with liver cancer and 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 en entrepreneurship
Professor of Medical Image Analysis Bram van Ginneken and medical biologist Frank Nijsen are involved with the project at Radboud university medical center. “This is a good model for collaboration for us,” says Van Ginneken. “We do our research here, and if there are good results, you know that there is a company that will do something with them. Unfortunately, that is not often the case. And we are all in the same region. A region in which a lot is happening, and there is a close connection and interaction between research and entrepreneurship. People who we trained here in AI used to go to work in different regions. Now they go to Thirona or Screenpoint Medical, another Radboud university medical center spin-off.” Nijsen has the same experience: “Technical medicine experts from the University of Twente are happy to start working with us.”
For Van Ginneken, the project funded by ERDF should mainly lead to the development of useful algorithms for oncology. “An increasing number of treatment options mean that patients with cancer live longer. That also means that an increasing number of scans are made to monitor the course of the disease and its treatment. Does a tumour grow bigger or smaller? Are there more metastases that are suitable for treatment? In principle, these questions could in future be answered by smart algorithms that automatically read and assess the scans. We will be developing software that will analyse the medical images of colon cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and bone cancer. Using it as a basis, the treatment team will be able to plan more accurately. And that is the direction of this research and development project. Translating knowledge into marketable products that benefit both patient and physician. That is how you make an impact.”
See what you do
The same is true for Quirem and Nijsen. They want to further refine and improve the treatment. For instance by being able to follow the path of the microspheres in the patients, not only beforehand 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 they emit. That dose can then be compared, during the treatment, to the dose which is needed to properly treat the tumour. As one of the few in Europe, Radboud university medical center has a number of innovative operating theatres in the MITeC in which we can effectively research and develop this. You can immediately see what you’re doing. It would be good if, as a result of the project, we would be able to calculate the location and size of the tumour automatically, followed by a recommendation about the optimal dose of radiation. Those are the prospects of Radiology of the Future.”
Boost for innovation
“This ERDF contribution seamlessly fits in 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 a large innovative capacity which contribute to solutions for the health care sector. This way we provide a boost for these innovations, and that makes me happy.”
Thirona develops computer algorithms for medical image analysis, currently mainly focused on CT scans of the lungs. Thirona is a Radboud university medical center spin-off, founded by Eva van Rikxoort and Bram van Ginneken in 2014. The company is located in Nijmegen and currently employs over 30 people.
Quirem Medical develops holmium microspheres that are mainly used in the treatment of liver cancer. Quirem Medical is a spin-off of UMC Utrecht, founded by Jan Sigger and Frank Nijsen in 2012. The company is located in Deventer and currently employs over 30 people.
ERDF/OP East The Operational Programme (OP) East Netherlands ERDF 2014-2020 is a joint funding programme for the provinces of Overijssel and Gelderland, and its objective is a structural strengthening of the economy in Gelderland and Overijssel. ERDF stands for European Regional Development Fund.
[This press release was first published by RadboudUMC.]