Convergence Relay 3: Jacob Hoogenboom

Convergence Relay episode 3 features Jacob Hoogenboom. He is one of the drivers of the CIFIC flagship. ‘We want to accelerate the availability of new techniques to medical scientists.’

Jacob Hoogenboom develops new methods, techniques, and instruments for microscopy with his research group at TU Delft. Within the CIFIC flagship (Convergent Imaging Facility and Innovation Centre), he collaborates with Erasmus MC’s Optical Imaging Centre and is getting more familiar with the medical side.

And that’s important, according to Jacob: ‘You can come up with a completely new and smart instrument as a physicist or engineer. But if the operator fails in using it for the questions they are interested in, it’s of little use.’ With that in mind, Jacob and his colleagues submitted the proposal for the CIFIC flagship.

Application-oriented

The cornerstone of the flagship is application-oriented work; Jacob explains: ‘Under a microscope, you rarely look at something alive, but at a sample of it. You must extract that sample, preserve it, and then apply contrasting or labelling techniques. Those techniques must be compatible with the microscopy technique you use. Otherwise, you will never visualise what you aim to visualise.’

By working application-oriented, researchers at CIFIC can already optimise the sample preparation while the microscopy technique is still in development. Consequently, the innovator and the operator are better aligned, and the techniques are more quickly applicable.

Moreover, this way, Erasmus MC’s optical imaging centre operators already gain access to the prototypes. ‘In medical centres, there is access to commercially available state-of-the-art microscopes. But at TU Delft, we have techniques that are beyond state-of-the-art. We want to give the life sciences scientists at Erasmus MC access to techniques not yet available anywhere in the world.’

Duration

A unique role in CIFIC is reserved for industry. Jacob: ‘Typically, the market introduction of a new technique lasts 15 to 20 years. Of course, that is absurdly long, actually.’ By involving companies in the research process and letting them participate in the discussion, CIFIC wants to speed up the market introduction of new technologies. ‘After all, it is great for TU Delft and Erasmus MC if prototypes and new techniques become available more quickly, but the real gain is that scientists worldwide can also use our techniques for their impactful research.’

Erasmus University Rotterdam is, therefore, also affiliated with CIFIC. ‘People working at the Rotterdam School of Management know about these targeted innovations and how to accelerate and manage them. And how best to work with many different parties in such a large consortium as CIFIC.’

Bridge function

How does collaborating within CIFIC work? Jacob: ‘We don’t have any preconceived projects, but support initiatives from both sides. So a PI from TU Delft and a PI from Erasmus MC team up to pitch an idea, starting from a question on the medical side and a technology on the innovation side.’

The PIs then receive flagship support in the form of a postdoc for one or two years. It is up to the postdoc to start setting up the research and generate data for follow-up applications. ‘We hope that this way the size of the flagship will grow bigger and bigger.’

Currently, four postdocs are working in such a bridging position between TU Delft and Erasmus MC. ‘So far, it is working well; you get a close partnership because the postdoc links the two groups together.’

Impact

CIFIC has brought Jacob even closer to medical research than before. ‘As a physicist, I basically do things because I think: ‘Would this be possible?’ Now, I’m thinking about how we can make something applicable so that it is useful for other people and has a wider impact.’

 

Convergence Relay
This was edition three of the Convergence Relay. The Convergence Relay is a way to better get to know the Convergence community. Participants pass the baton to someone whose work they find interesting but unfamiliar. Jacob Hoogenboom passes the baton to Roberto Narcisi.