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NWO Open Technology Program Grant for DoPredict

26 March 2024
The research project DoPredict: Dynamic 3D Biopsy Based Response to Treatment Prediction, led by Professor of Biophotonics and Medical Imaging Marloes Groot, has been awarded funding by the Open Technology Program from the NWO domain of Applied and Technical Sciences.

Testing on small pieces of human tissue
With the DOPREDICT project, the research team, consisting of Marloes Groot from VU LaserLab, Jan Willem Duitman (Respiratory Medicine, Amsterdam UMC), and Francesco Ciompi (Pathology, Radboud UMC), will develop a system to predict the outcome of lung treatment relatively quickly and simply by testing a combination of potentially applicable drugs on a small piece of the patient's tissue (biopsy).

Over- and under-treatment of lung patients
Personalized treatment based on predictive biomarkers (measurable indicators of a biological state or condition) is now the standard in healthcare. However, over- and under-treatment of patients remains a significant problem because biomarkers do not account for the phenotype (observable characteristics) of, for example, a tumor. As a result, some patients suffer from severe side effects of a treatment that they do not benefit from.

3D imaging
The researchers will culture a piece of the patient's tissue and image the cells and all components of the tissue microscopically for 5 days using an innovative microscopic technique (higher harmonic generation (HHG)) that allows direct tissue assessment. Groot's group previously developed this technique to create images of biopsies in a few minutes, making cells, cell nuclei, and connective tissue visible in 3D, providing feedback to a surgeon or endoscopist during surgery or endoscopic procedures on whether the tissue is tumor or healthy. As a result of this developed technique, the startup Flash Pathology BV was founded.

Use of artificial intelligence
In the project, the researchers will focus on lung cancer and pulmonary fibrosis and use HHG microscopy to follow the tissue in 3D during culture, resulting in 4D data. They will develop analysis methods, based on artificial intelligence, for analyzing the HHG images and use them to quantify the numbers of healthy cells and tumor cells over time and the microstructure of the tissue to measure the response to treatment. They will investigate and validate the predictive power of these features with the feedback from patients on the treatment they actually received from their physician.

Societal impact testbed
A biopsy-based personalized drug test could help find the best treatment for a patient within a week of diagnosis, thus helping to reduce overtreatment and thereby having a major impact on healthcare and associated costs.

NWO Open Technology Program
The Open Technology Program provides funding for application-oriented technical-scientific research that is free and unbound and not hindered by disciplinary boundaries. The program offers companies and other organizations an accessible way to connect with scientific research that should lead to societal and/or scientific impact. NWO contributes over 5.3 million euros to seven application-oriented technical-scientific projects. The business community and other organizations contribute over 700,000 euros.

Image of a piece of lung tissue, an alveolus, after two days in culture, measured with HHG with collagen in red, cells and all fiber bundles in green, and elastin in blue, image taken by PhD student Y. Ma.

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