In 2014, Medical Spectrum Twente (MST), the Twente Hospital Group (ZGT) and the University of Twente (UT) became partners in the ‘Pioneers in Health Care Innovation Fund’. The aim of the fund is to encourage collaboration between MST and ZGT medical specialists and researchers from UT’s MIRA research institute. The fund has proven to be successful and for this reason, the directors of the three institutes signed the Pioneers in Health Care agreement that sets out plans for the long term.
The Pioneers in Health Care Innovation Fund was founded by MST, ZGT and UT’s MIRA research institute to establish a connection between the medical practice and the world of new technology. Too often, technology is developed that does not adequately meet the needs in the clinical practice. Getting medical specialists and scientists to work together at an early stage and putting the demands from the clinical practice first, makes it more likely that innovative technologies will be developed that will ultimately benefit the patient, says Bas Leerink, President of the Board of Directors at Medical Spectrum Twente. “You sometimes see that technologists have a solution and are looking for a problem. We wanted to turn this around with ‘Pioneers in Health Care.’ We need to start with the clinical practice - what problems do practitioners have?”
In 2015, health insurance company Menzis joined the fund. Together, the four parties offer a grand total of 500,000 euros in funding per year. This funding will be used by ten innovative projects at the intersection of health care and technology; projects in which UT researchers and MST and ZGT medical specialists work together.
The parties will present each project with an innovation voucher worth €50,000. These funds will enable researchers to discover how viable innovative ideas are, explains Meindert Schmidt, President of ZGT’s Board of Directors. The purpose of the funding is not to allow those involved to immediately start working on fully mature projects, but to offer people a boost so they can conduct further research. Should this prove to be promising, then new steps can be taken.”
One of the projects in the first round involving MST, ZGT and UT proved that this approach is effective. The aim of the project was to investigate how smartglass technology could help Parkinson patients walk better. The project led to the development of a prototype and also to follow-up funding from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and Interreg.
There is enormous interest from researchers and specialists at UT, MST and ZGT. The jury had to select a project from 33 submitted proposals in the first year. In the second year, there were 34 proposals. A third round will start this autumn. In addition to the follow-up research, conference contributions and joint publications that resulted from the funded projects, Pioneers in Health Care also bridges gaps between parties and encourages cooperation. The fund organizers engage in proactive matchmaking to get the right people together for the project at hand. Albert van den Berg, MIRA’s scientific director, says that this is already paying off. “We can see that UT researchers and medical specialists can more easily find each other and get it in touch, and have a clearer idea of each other’s knowledge and expertise.”