Openness is gold

Medicine and medico technology Medical equipment and systems Nanomedicine Health and diseases Entrepreneurship Innovation and product development

It was a perfect match when Associate Professor Winnie E. Svendsen met Dan Høgdall, a doctor. Together they developed a chip for diagnosing early-stage cancers. In January, their business won the Venture Cup Idea Competition.

It all started by chance. Back in 2012, Associate Professor Winnie E. Svendsen from DTU Nanotech found herself bemoaning the lack of opportunities to test her technology in practice. At the same time, Dan Høgdall—a doctor at Herlev Hospital—was frustrated that he was unable to treat early-stage cancers when he knew that he could cure his patients if they were screened early enough. But then something happened that turned things around for both the doctor and the engineer.

“I met Dan through a mutual acquaintance, and one day he asked whether I could come up with a way of isolating what are known as ‘exosomes’—tiny blister-like bubbles that separate from cells and enter the blood stream. He was convinced that by isolating exosomes efficiently, it would be possible to diagnose cancers at an extremely early point,” recalls Winnie E. Svendsen.

Where’s your bottleneck?

She had previously created a similar solution for isolating bacteria, so the pair of them soon set to work on developing a new chip. The idea proved to be so good that they formed the start-up POC Solutions together. In January 2016, they won the Venture Cup Idea Competition at Copenhagen City Hall.

“The openness and dynamism that exist between doctor and technology developer are extremely valuable. As a technology developer, I can easily come up with ideas for how doctors could use technology. But I get much more out of it if I simply ask the doctor: Where’s your bottleneck? It’s all about dialogue. By having access to input from doctors right from the outset, we engineers can devise products they can use in practice,” says Winne E. Svendsen.

Chip warns of incipient cancer

The solution consists of a chip that can help to analyse and ultimately diagnose certain cancers earlier than is possible today. The idea is that you measure the exosomer content in a urine or saliva sample, for example. An increased level of particular exosomers may be a sign of different types of cancer. Today, the process of examining exosome content is both costly and time-consuming, but using the new chip developed by POC Solutions, the values can be checked on site. Moreover, the chip can be used for pre-screenings, where it can detect early-stage pancreatic cancer, for instance.