NWO rewards project led by Luc Florack with substantial funding

April 11, 2023

Financial support for research to secure more effective medical operations with fewer side effects.

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The research project ‘Bringing Tractography into Daily Neurosurgical Practice’ was awarded funding from the NWO KIC call ‘Key enabling technologies for minimally invasive interventions in healthcare’. This project, as submitted by a consortium of researchers, industry, medical professionals and civil-society organizations, is led by Luc Florack, Full Professor in the Applied Differential Geometry group of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.

The proposal was developed under the lead of Luc Florack (TU/e Mathematics) with the support of Anna Vilanova (TU/e Data Science), and in strong collaboration with Elizabeth Hospital in Tilburg through neurosurgeon Geert-Jan Rutten. Besides these, the consortium consists of several other partners from hospitals and industry. Among these partners, neuroradiologist Marion Smits (Erasmus MC), Maxime Chamberland  (Data Science) and Andrea Fuster (Mathematics) are formally involved as co-applicants, sharing supervising roles during project execution with Luc, Geert-Jan and Anna.  Besides Geert-Jan and Marion, a number of other neurosurgeons, neurologists and radiologists have enthusiastically taken up roles in conducting validation studies, notably Hilko Ardon, Bart Brouwers, Thies van Asseldonk (ETZ), Rick Schuurman (Amsterdam UMC), and Eelke Bos (Erasmus MC). Medtronic is the preferred health-tech partner, kindly providing hardware and software support to the project.

Luc Florack

Florack's project aims to make the technique of tractography accessible and applicable to everyday neurosurgery. Diffusion-MRI allows imaging of the mobility (diffusion) of water molecules in the brain. Since this mobility is affected by underlying structures, this modality yields indirect evidence for nerve bundles in the brain (‘tracts’) via a technique known as tractography. For neurosurgeons such insight is crucial for optimal planning of the treatment of brain tumors and other disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. Various impediments and knowledge gaps still prevent routine clinical use. Scientists and clinical experts, supported by a health-tech multinational, have joined forces to overcome these obstacles and make tractography available for routine use in the neurosurgical workflow.

The consortium for this project consists of Eindhoven University of Technology, Erasmus MC, Amsterdam UMC, Coöperatieve Neurochirurgie Brabant, ETZ Elisabeth and Medtronic.

Secure more effective operations
The overarching aim is to secure more effective operations with fewer side effects, to shorten the time patients spend in hospital and allow them to quickly resume their active participation in society. The KIC call ‘Key enabling technologies for minimally invasive interventions in healthcare’ focuses on the transition from invasive to minimally invasive interventions; in other words, treatments that use methods and resources that have the least possible impact on the patient. The use of key enabling technologies can help to improve these treatments and limit side effects. This call for proposals falls under the Knowledge and Innovation Agenda (KIA) for Key Enabling Technologies.

Florack's project managed to secure the funding together with five other projects, all focused on developing smart medical technologies that pave the way for minimally invasive interventions.