Chips that look for traces of early-stage cancer in urine, or that mimic the blood-brain barrier. The fluidic systems that Loes Segerink is developing, can make the difference in health care. “In this type of research, you sometimes have to acknowledge the fact there’s a lot you do not know. Just visiting another lab, with your questions, maybe the onset of the best possible collaboration.” As a scientist, she also highly values outreach: she likes to tell about her work, to primary school pupils, at festivals and in the media. Prof. dr. Loes Segerink gives her inaugural address, as a Professor of Biomedical Microdevices at the University of Twente (TechMed Centre), June 17 2022.
Already as a PhD-student, Loes Segerink discovered what it means to get lots of media attention. After her scientific paper on a fluidic chip, capable of determining male fertility, she got a phone call from ‘The Times’. A lot followed. This is the main reason she starts her inaugural address telling about outreach: share with society what you do it that lab of yours. It is time-consuming, but necessary…and basically fun, according to Loes. “On a primary school, the children were not at all interested in my Professor’s gown or my stories about travelling around the world. They were fascinated by my green gloves and the pipettes I do experiments with.” Already as a BSc or MSc student, you should learn to present your work in a clear way, according to Segerink. That's why 'elevator pitches' are now a fixed part of engineering courses and projects.
In her current research, about detecting tumor markers in urine, Segerink discovered the power of collaboration. Together with the Molecular Nanofabrication group of Jurriaan Huskens, she developed a way of getting the markers out of urine. It therefore passes numerous microfabricated poles. A very tiny amount of DNA fragments in urine is hypermethylated, it has an additional methyl group. It seems logic that in this way, you can trace bladder cancer in urine, but Segerink and her colleagues discovered markers of other types of tumors as well. “We are very good at making these chips, but we don’t know that much about proteins. I’ll check who does know, and visit him or her in the lab.” Another thing is that in her work, Segerink took it for granted that urine samples were available anuaway. But other scientists would ask her, at what temperature they should be stored, what would be the influence of temperature. Or a simple question, how do patients actually get their sample to the lab? This, for her, illustrates that collaboration is not just a think of big consortia, it can start small. Stimulate your PhD students to have a look in other labs and search for collaboration. “You’ll get better researchers in this way, I am very sure”. The research into tumor markers in urine received a donation of the De Weijerhorst Foundation.
Brain stem cancer
Loes Segerink also works on brainstem cancer, a research program started by the father of 'super hero' Tobias Sybesma, who died of this disease when he was twelve. Using a microfluidic system that mimicks the blood-brain barrier, the effect of medication can be evaluated – until now, there is no cure for this disease. The same type of chip can also provide valuable insights in diseases like Alzheimer’s. Segerink, for this, sought collaboration with UT’s Applied Stem Cell Technology group, with Kerensa Broersen and Andries van der Meer, as well as with Dannis van Vuurden of the Princes Máxima Centre - hospital for child oncology.
In the mean time, the further development of the fertility chip, a fully working devices and steps towards commercializing it, is continuing as well, both for veterinary as human applicatioins.
Fun and important
Loes Segerink concludes her address with: “Outreach is fun and important. Teaching is fun and important. Doing research is fun and important."
Professor Dr. Loes Segerink (Oldenzaal, 1984) studied Biomedical Engineering at the University of Twente. In 2011, she did her PhD work on the ‘fertility chip’, determining male fertility. She is a member of the BIOS Lab-on-a-Chip group, part of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology and the Technical Medical Centre (TechMed) of the UT. She received several grants and awards like a Veni Grant and the ‘Simon Stevin Gezel’. Her inaugural address, in Dutch, is on June 17, 2022.