Nico Verdonschot helps clinicians develop the best implants and treatments
Professor Nico Verdonschot is the scientific director of the Technical Medical Centre (TechMed Centre) of the University of Twente. The TechMed Centre focuses on developments in research into personalised technologies in healthcare. Areas in which the TechMed Institute is active include translational physiology, bio-engineering technology, biomedical imaging, biorobotics and health sciences. Verdonschot is also Professor of Implant Biomechanics at the University of Twente since 2007 and Head of the Orthopaedic Research Laboratory (ORL) of the Orthopaedics Department at the Radboudumc since 2003, where he was also appointed Professor in 2013. Furthermore, he is visiting professor of the Politecnico di Milano and has an honorary doctorate of Aalborg University.
Verdonschot is an internationally recognised expert in the field of orthopedic biomechanics of the lower extremity. "With my work, I want to make a clear contribution to a better fundamental understanding of the mechanical function of implants and the musculoskeletal system of the lower human body. My research group has developed computer simulation techniques that are now being used to test products for orthopaedic companies before they are even made. With our simulations we assess the likelihood of clinically relevant failure modes of these implants.
At the moment, Verdonschot and his team are concentrating on generating personalized computer models. This means that the anatomy of a particular patient is recreated in the computer. These models can help a clinician decide which type of treatment is best for a specific patient with a particular pathology. "Essentially, we use imaging modalities such as CT or MRI scans to build a model of a patient in the computer so that we can use this patient-specific model to predict the effects of a surgical interventional or placement of prosthetic components”.
During his career, Verdonschot obtained a large number of grants, including an ERC advanced grant of 2.5 million euros in 2012, for the further development and expansion of his pioneering work in the field of diagnostic and evaluation methods for orthopaedic patients.
Verdonschot sees opportunities in an increased focus of young scientists at the early stages of their careers. "If people become an assistant professors after their PhD, they typically spend a lot of time on teaching tasks. As a consequence, the research gets less attention. However, this early period after the PhD of Postdoc is a crucial phase for a young researcher. If a young researcher is not able to attain considerable funding or produce excellent results which are published in the literature, it becomes more difficult to compete with research peers in the field. Ideally, I would discuss their ambitions with them at an earlier stage. If they have the ambition to become a world renowned scientist, I would suggest to try to limit the amount of teaching so that this young individual could focus on his/her research career. After establishing a good research track-record one could focus more on teaching as at that time the researcher has obtained a critical mass and momentum in his/her research career.
The professor realizes that this can be practically difficult. "It’s easy for me to say, since I'm not part of a faculty where education has to be given. But you could also opt for specialisation within research groups. Then the various team members can, for example, choose whether they want to make a career in education or focus on research. It would be great if we could produce both: good teachers and good researchers and if both groups could be given the opportunity to specialise. Researchers will have more time for their research and teachers will have more career perspectives. The latter group seems to be less respected currently. It would be good to develop esteemed career paths for people who have a clear talent and ambition in teaching. Currently, I do not know anyone at the University of Twente, who is a professor because of his educational package. I think we should consider these paths as students, researchers and teachers will all benefit from this. The students are taught by enthusiastic and inspired teachers who are part of research groups, but spent only a limited amount of time on research. The University of Twente remains at the forefront of the research world because researchers are less burdened with teaching tasks and can concentrate on groundbreaking research".
Verdonschot believes that the link between research and education is very important in regular education. "Students need an inspiring environment in which they can apply the knowledge from theoretical subjects, for example in the analysis of fascinating and socially relevant subjects. The Technical Medical Centre offers them many opportunities, says the professor. "For example we have many relationships with hospitals, which allows our students to do internships there. We have more than 500 external internships per year for our study programmes. These students are always supervised by someone from the University of Twente and a contact person at the external partner, thus creating an extensive network. This also results in new research lines and projects and greatly enhances the societal relevance of what we do."
Verdonschot studied mechanical engineering at the University of Twente. In 1989 he finished his master thesis in Nijmegen at the Orthopaedic Research Laboratory(ORL) of the Radboudumc. After his graduation he stayed at the ORL as Junior Researcher and performed various kinds of projects focusing on testing of orthopaedic implants. Most projects were funded by the Orthopaedic Industry, which gradually led to an extensive network of R&D departments of small to large international orthopaedic companies. The publications of these projects resulted in his Ph.D. degree in 1995. Subsequently he was promoted to Assistant Professor and was appointed to be Director of Pre-clinical testing of joint implants. In 2003 Verdonschot was further promoted to Associate Professor. Since February 2014 he is a full Professor at the Radboudumc Institute for Health Sciences (RIHS), and is embedded in the research theme 'Reconstructive and regenerative medicine'.
His research interests are focused on orthopaedic-biomechanical problems of the lower extremity. His group utilizes computer modelling techniques in combination with cadaveric testing, animal research and clinical studies in order to optimize diagnostic and evaluation tools for orthopaedic patients. They work with researchers and orthopaedic companies to optimize the functionality and longevity of orthopaedic implants such as knee and hip prostheses. Furthermore, they focus on the calculation of bone strength for patients that have osteoporosis or metastatic lesions.
Since October 2007 he has a part-time appointment (1 day per week) as Professor on Implant Biomechanics at the University of Twente (dept. Biomechanical Engineering headed by Prof. Bart Koopman), where he is setting up a research line related to biomechanics of the musculoskeletal system of the lower body; see also TLEMsafe.
In December 2012 he was awarded a 'European Research Council - Advanced Grant' for follow up research. In Nijmegen his group is currently expanding their modelling efforts to generate patient specific models and feed these models with innovative dynamic imaging techniques (see www.erc-biomechtools.eu). In 2016 he was appointed as a visiting professor at the Politecnico di Milano (Italy). In 2018 Verdonschot received an Honorary Doctorate of Aalborg University (Denmark). Currently, he is the Scientific Director of the Technical Medical Centre at the University of Twente.
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