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Phenomix Field Lab offers promising healthcare solutions

In the Phenomix Medical Delta Field Lab, which was officially opened on Thursday 9 July, scientists, healthcare institutions and businesses work together to develop innovative applications in the field of metabolomics. This research field makes it possible to determine which drugs will be effective for which patient.

Each patient responds differently to drugs. The more doctors know beforehand about an individual’s potential response to specific drugs, the better they can decide on a treatment for a certain condition. Metabolomics is the research field that studies metabolic processes in humans. This helps researchers determine not only which conditions an individual is susceptible to, but also which drugs are likely to be most effective. It is a highly promising field within the upcoming field of precision medicine. 

Meeting place

Metabolomics is the field of specialisation of the Phenomix, the new Medical Delta Field Lab at the Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research (LACDR). Phenomix is a laboratory that, once fully equipped, will be able to analyse 50,000 blood samples a year. And if the lab’s capacity is increased even further, researchers may even be able to use these samples to create ‘metabolic profiles’ for people from an entire region. But Phenomix is also a meeting place where different parties can work together on rapid innovative practical applications for metabolomics.

What is metabolomics?

Metabolomics researchers study the unique chemical fingerprints left by specific metabolic processes in our bodies. This knowledge can shift the focus of healthcare to prevention and early treatment. Metabolomics can also play an important role in the agriculture and food industry. The new field lab provides an innovative setting for researchers to tackle projects in healthcare and the corporate sector. 

‘Fantastic moment’

‘This is a fantastic moment, an opportunity for metabolomics to really flourish,’ said Professor Thomas Hankemeier, one of the initiators of the field lab and a pioneer in the field, at the opening. He was surrounded by representatives of the various partners who played a key role in creating the lab: the Municipality of Leiden, Innovation Quarter, Leiden Bio Science Park and Medical Delta. The field lab is part of the latter. This is exceptional, Gertine van der Vliet, Managing Director of Medical Delta, is keen to emphasise: ‘You have to meet really high standards to become a Medical Delta lab. Phenomix contributes to technological healthcare solutions. It also ensures that these solutions have a sound scientific basis, which is crucial. It takes a practice-based interdisciplinary approach, and is able to accelerate developments thanks to its driven and ambitious team.’ The lab has also received a European EFRO-subsidie.

Impressive opportunities

The second part of the opening showcased the enormous value of Phenomix as a source of innovation and synergy. For the field lab, Hankemeier approached parties from all kinds of disciplines who would not only be able to help develop metabolomics applications, but might also be interesting partners for one another.

The various companies gave short presentations on why they consider metabolomics to be such an interesting research field, and within the space of half an hour, some impressive opportunities had been outlined. For example, Vitroscan, a company that studies how tumour samples from cancer patients respond to drugs, hopes to work with Phenomix to investigate which patients would benefit from which drugs. The Erasmus MC Neonatology Department hopes to use metabolomics to provide faster and more effective help to newborns with infections. InOvo, a company that wants to improve the life of chicks in the poultry industry, was the odd one out here. Its director, Wil Stutterheim, explained how information obtained through metabolomics may make it possible to determine with biomarkers how healthy chicks are or develop better quality feed for newly hatched ones. 

Once all the parties had introduced themselves, it was time for drinks and further introductions. Who knows what this group of companies will achieve if they join forces? Hankemeier is clearly looking forward to this clash of worlds: ‘Let’s build something exciting. To a happy, long and healthy life!’

Text: Jan-Joost Aten
Photo: Monique Shaw

About Medical Delta

Medical Delta (established in 2006) is an interdisciplinary consortium that brings together more than 280 researchers from Leiden University, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Erasmus MC, Delft University of Technology, LUMC and various universities of applied sciences. It works with businesses and government on technological healthcare solutions and gives shape to this in 13 interdisciplinary research groups and practice-based field and living labs. It thus gives an enormous boost to the life sciences & health sector in the province of Zuid-Holland and beyond. For more information, see the Medical Delta website

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