‘Kidney patients are in urgent need for innovations’

Matchmaking as a first step

18 December 2019

Loneliness, anxiety and considerable limitations in daily life: the misery that kidney damage causes often goes far further than just the actual physical condition. Patients, their family members and doctors are therefore desperate for innovations. Groundbreaking collaborations are needed to realise these. But how do partners find each other?

Whether it concerns prevention, diagnosis, treatment or dealing with the disease: for people with a kidney condition, there is still an awful lot to improve on all fronts. To initiate and accelerate innovation at all stages, the Dutch Kidney Foundation, NWO and imec brought various parties together at the start of December in Eindhoven: companies, scientists, medics, investors and those whom it is all about, namely the patients.


Technology is not a goal in itself

“Pioneers maken kennis” was the name of the matchmaking meeting held on 2 December at the Holst Centre. During the course of the morning, it became apparent that there was already a lot of knowledge, but that this is not enough to help patients further. ‘Technology can never be a goal in itself’, said Professor of Nephrology Luuk Hilbrands from Radboudumc as an opening remark. ‘Technology is a means to help people. The human factor should always be our first concern.’

Marja Ho-dac, director of the Dutch Kidney Patient’s Association (NVN) could only confirm that. ‘Nowadays, patients are often far more involved in innovations than before, but that can nevertheless still further improve. All too often we still fill in what patients need without actually asking them.’ In the room, Merel van Eck and Janneke Bresser nodded in agreement. Both suffer from a kidney condition. They jointly started the meeting with their personal and gripping stories. For example, Merel had to give up her “really great job” and a hobby as a competitive dancer after she had a kidney removed, and she is now dependent on haemodialysis. ‘I was always very happy and adventurous, but nowadays I’m often at home tired and feeling alone. And every dialysis is also tense; recently, I have once again become very ill from it.’

Janneke has been a patient for longer. Because she can do dialysis at home during the night and can attach herself to the dialysis machine, she has far more freedom during the day. But if she wants to be away from home for longer, an extra car needs to go with her to transport the dialysis machine. Her wish: further technological developments that make smaller dialysis machines possible so that she, and with her many other patients, can become more mobile again.

paneldiscussieThe panel talk, with left Marja Ho-dac (NVN), Wouter Eijgelaar (Dutch Kidney Foundation), Luuk Hilbrands (Radboudumc) and kidney patients Janneke en Merel

Big promises and small improvements

A wearable artificial kidney. Regenerative medicine, in which the kidney’s function is repaired by the use of biological recovery mechanisms. These are big promises that could mean a lot for patients in the future. ‘However, patients are often considerably helped now by simple improvements that make their lives easier’, emphasised Marja Ho-dac. She therefore made a plea to those present: ‘Do not forget the small things, those small innovations which can help people like Merel and Janneke to suffer less from the fact that they are ill.’

Image problem

That such innovations do not yet get off the ground is because of the “image problem” that nephrology suffers from, according to Wouter Eijgelaar from the Dutch Kidney Foundation. ‘Technologists often do not see this field as the initial application area. For example, there is far more innovation in oncology or cardiovascular diseases. We are convinced that nephrology due to its limited size is actually highly suitable for introducing certain innovations and then later scaling these up to oncology and cardiology, for example.’

To give the research a boost, organisations jointly published the innovation agenda “Nierziekten de baas” (Taking control of kidney disease, in Dutch). Prevention and early detection are important focus areas in this. ‘People often do not know that they have kidney damage’, confirms Hilbrands. With this, he underlines the importance of this focus area. ‘A detection system would be most welcome. If we know it earlier, then we can intervene earlier too.’


Filling the entire chain of research

The meeting in Eindhoven formed an important activity to realise the ambition of the Dutch Kidney Foundation, said director Tom Oostrom. ‘On the one hand, research is taking place and on the other, the patient is still waiting. In the intervening space, we are doing everything we can to facilitate and accelerate innovation. To develop the entire chain of research we want to enable companies, investors, researchers, doctors, patients and their families to meet each other and to connect with each other.’ And that is unusual, even on a world scale, said Fokko Wieringa from imec. ‘The Netherlands is the leading country in this area. For example, it is really unique that health insurers are already helping to pay for the products that are not yet available. That means that we have the world's attention. I dare to guarantee that whoever engages with this will also immediately obtain good international possibilities.’

From screening tool to stem cell therapy

To inspire those present, chair of the meeting Gerdine Stout (NWO) invited four innovators to give a pitch. During these pitches, concrete examples of innovations were shown that are currently under development: from a screening tool for the early detection of kidney damage to a method that will make stem cell therapy accessible worldwide for broad groups of patients. Innovations that are focused on other diseases or conditions can sometimes be highly usable in the area of kidney diseases too. That applies, for example, to the medically certified app FibriCheck, which can detect heart rhythm disorders using a smartphone camera. This method can also be used for a wide range of other conditions. But there are also emerging innovations that will improve the treatment of dialysis patients. An example of that is the Vascoscope, a small ultrasound device that makes the shunt in dialysis patients clearly visible, and so makes the insertion of dialysis needles far easier.

In the room, participants also shared which innovations they were working on in order to interest possible knowledge partners and investors for their project. Various funding possibilities at NWO and the Dutch Kidney Foundation were presented at the end of the meeting by Jasper Boomker, Innovation Programme Manager at the Dutch Kidney Foundation. For example, he drew the participants’ attention to the programme PIONIER+ (in Dutch) with which the Dutch Kidney Foundation is making it easier to request co-funding from it when the research proposal is submitted.

An annual tradition

Full of new information and ideas, the participants subsequently took part in the matchmaking over lunch. Kidney patients Merel and Janneke watched it full of expectation. And Dutch Kidney Foundation director Tom Oostrom also watched it with satisfaction. ‘It is fantastic to see how a wide range of new contacts have arisen here and how researchers and companies are jointly exploring new possibilities. As far as I am concerned, this is the start of an annual tradition.’


Source: NWO


Dr. ir. Gerdine Stout (Programmamedewerker) Dr. ir. Gerdine Stout (Programmamedewerker) +31 (0)30 6001325 g.stout@nwo.nl