Last month, the VieCuri Medical Centre in Venlo became the first hospital in the world to use a Raman spectroscope for a medical application. The idea of using a Raman spectroscope to detect rheumatic diseases such as gout was conceived by UT students and researchers. UT PhD candidate Tom Niessink is conducting research into this new application to make it easier to identify rheumatic diseases.
Gout is a rheumatic disease that occurs in the kidneys because these organs tend to retain too much urate (salt of uric acid). Doctors currently diagnose gout by combining a joint puncture with blood tests and an X-ray examination. In 2010, rheumatologist Dr Matthijs Janssen asked the university’s students of Technical Medicine to come up with an improved way to diagnose this joint disease.
“At the time, those students were studying microscopic detection with me and suggested the use of Raman spectroscopy as a possible solution,” says associate professor Dr Cees Otto. In the years that followed, Otto and his colleague Janssen continued to flesh this idea out. When Janssen joined the VieCuri Medical Centre in 2016 and the hospital showed an interest in the application, the ball really started rolling. Several bachelor’s and master’s assignments were carried out at the university and ReumaNederland also showed an interest.
ReumaNederland accepted an application for a study in which Hybriscan Technologies, a UT spin-off, will produce a prototype and a UT PhD candidate will test the technology. Tom Niessink started his research in September 2021 and now works daily in Venlo to test the Raman spectroscope in a clinical environment. “It is very cool to work in the clinic. In my current study, the doctors first do the diagnosis themselves using the usual methods, then I repeat the analysis in the new ‘Raman room’,” says Niessink. If the rheumatologist is certain that a patient suffers from gout, Niessink’s analysis will be positive too. “But when there is more uncertainty – and this happens often – this analysis can really make a difference,” says Niessink.
Tom Niessink conducts his research within the Department of Medical Cell Biophysics (MCBP; Faculty of Science and Technology) under the supervision of Dr Cees Otto. He is conducting this study in cooperation with the VieCuri Medical Centre in Venlo. The Raman spectroscope is sponsored by ReumaNederland, Health Holland, the Province of Gelderland, LIOF, HCR and Hybriscan Technologies. The Raman laboratory at VieCuri Medical Centre was officially opened on Friday 22 April. The research will initially focus mainly on gout and pseudo-gout, but in the future, VieCuri Medical Centre and the University of Twente also want to investigate applications for other diseases in which crystals play a role, such as osteoarthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.