The possibility of a complete and detailed snapshot of your own molecular data and with this the key to unlock the door to personalized medicine at arm’s reach?

Pioneer prof. dr. Ron Heeren, University professor at Maastricht University and key player in the Top Research Institute M4I (Maastricht MultiModal Molecular Imaging Institute) is at the forefront of technological breakthroughs in oncology, neurology and cardiovascular medicine. Heeren’s team is developing biomedical applications of Mass Spectroscopy Imaging (MSI), or in other words techniques to photograph molecules. These amazing new developments will for example unleash dramatic differences in the way we treat and diagnose cancer. A revolution in cancer treatment is coming.

Cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide. The need for more precise and faster diagnosis and treatment is eminent. The current state of affairs of cancer diagnostics, in which it takes at least a month to reach a proper diagnosis before being able to start with treatment, is just not cutting it. Moreover, the current pathological screening standards often do not provide a surgeon with enough knowledge on the nature of the tumor they are about to operate on.

The new revolutionary imaging techniques developed by Heeren are able to capture the endangered tumor tissue as well as the surroundings malignant tissue at a very early stage and more precisely than ever before. Amazingly, Heeren doesn’t only focus on the discovery aspects of his research; he also aims at quickly implementing these new techniques into clinical practice. He expects that these MSI techniques will be in place within operating rooms in the next 3 years.

Imagine that, on-the-spot access to detailed molecular information on the tumor the surgeon is about to resect.

MSI techniques are currently already applied on small scale and in combination with the so-called ‘IKnife’, a fascinating electrosurgical knife that provides molecular information of different layers of tissue by analyzing the released smoke resulting from cutting through the tissue.

The social impact and influence of real-time diagnostics and personalized precision medicine on the future of health care will be immense. Cutting-edge, multi-disciplinary, innovative research, happening right at Maastricht’s doorstep with prof. dr. Heeren as our own ‘Superman’. Clearly, his team at M4I is a force to be reckoned with. No wonder the Province of Limburg has invested millions in M4I as one of two European top institutes in their LINK project (Limburg INvests in her Knowledge economy).

Gonny Willems
Licensee and curation team member TEDxMaastricht