How a more or less coincidental invention became the basis of one of the fastest growing tech companies in the Netherlands. Diagnoptics in Groningen conquers the world with a device that tells you if you're at increased risk of heart or vascular problems without pricking in 12 seconds.
Do you have to look out for heart problems or diabetes? Put your forearm in the Age Reader's holder and after a few moments you know. Without needles, without CT scan, without radiation. Diagnoptics has mastered that technique and is hard on its way to making the device worldwide.
"By our device, doctors are better able to make a specific patient-oriented therapy," says director Bart van den Berg. "The treatment will be personalized. The Age Reader indicates how much the risk is. Based on this, a doctor may decide to prescribe certain medications immediately, or not yet. "
In short, the doctor can provide better care. And that can cause the patient to experience side effects and taxes. And it's the patient's money - and therefore society. No wonder, therefore, that the global interest in this Groningen product is high. And not just from a medical angle.
The Age Reader measures the amount of AGEs (Advanced Glycation Endproducts) on the skin. AGEs are damaged proteins that play a crucial role in our aging process and in the occurrence of chronic diseases such as diabetes and kidney problems. Everybody has them. But the amount of AGEs appears to be a good predictor of cardiovascular risk, and more disorders.
A good way to measure those AGEs was never actually there. Until Doctor Andries Smit and his employees at the University of Groningen academically discovered that skin autofluorescence in diabetic patients has increased. That was the starting shot in 1996 to develop prototypes to determine that auto fluorescence. From the prototypes, the current Age Reader continues. The device transmits a certain type of light in the forearm with which the fluorescence can be read.
"Years of research are in between," says Bart van den Berg, who was appointed CEO in 2004. "You are dealing with a range of brand marks, but also with the medical world, where new methods are sometimes not easily accepted." That's getting better. In the meantime, the Age Reader is available at over 3000 sites worldwide.
Not that the pioneering work is over. The studies to AGEs and the impact they have just continued. More and more is known. The cosmetics world is especially interested in the relationship between AGEs and skin ageing. In the sports world, interest is also growing. There seems to be a direct link between the extent of AGEs in a body and cartilage and tendon injuries.
"We work with a US producer of vitamin drinks, which can demonstrate with our device that its product helps to reduce the number of AGEs. From the cosmetics world, anti-wrinkle cream has been created for a longer period of time, which causes AGEs to cause skin ageing.''
The fact that Diagnoptics originated in Groningen and remained the city faithful, is more than logical to Van den Berg. "We had a close relationship with the University Medical Center Groningen, especially in all those years of research and improvement. We have had a lot of PhD candidates here and have our product tested. More than 170 publications in legal journals have already been about our technique. The UMCG is still the natural contact point for projects we do. ''
That has great advantages for the Diagnoptics brand. "The UMCG enjoys great fame in the world, so it's great if we can paste our label of approval on our product. Certainly in Germany, Groningen is also a well-known city. We involve quite a few German employees. But also from Spain and Russia for example. People would like to come here. From the Hanzehogeschool we also get a lot of interns and graduates across the floor. That can be done here. That is why Groningen is the right place for us to further develop our products. ''