Tide Microfluidics: microbubbles on demand
5 March, 2021 by
Tide Microfluidics: microbubbles on demand
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Tide Microfluidics uses “novel platform technology for the creation of monodisperse microbubbles.” Founder Wim van Hoeve explains what this actually means – it’s something to do with a Nespresso coffee machine and the accompanying coffee capsules. For your daily cup of microbubbles…

What does Tide Microfluidics do?

Wim van Hoeve, founder of Tide Microfluidics: “We make medical equipment that enables a better view into the body. Contrast-enhanced echography (NB: echography is also known as ultrasonography or medical ultrasound) works with sound that bounces off microbubbles inserted into the blood. With knowledge of the size of these microbubbles you can retrieve specific information from the echoing sound. We produce the microbubbles, as well as a machine that can manufacture them  – the MicroSphere Creator, which is like a laboratory in a compact casing the size of a standard computer. You may compare us to Nespresso: we make the coffee machine and the coffee capsules.”

Enabling patient-specific medicine

A profoundly technological invention, the MicroSphere Creator allows for a pharmaceutical product to be produced by the patient’s bedside. “What we do has never been done before: our technology allows doctors to optimize the production of the ultrasound contrast agent on the spot according to the patient’s need. Our revenue model is based on producing small quantities of medicine in single-use patient sets, where a separate disposable set is used for each patient.” Tailor-made medicine means there is no need for stock-piling and enables adaptation of the microbubble-size and the amount of the medium to, for example, the patient’s body size. “The beauty of our product is that it enhances the low-cost echography technique so that it can, often, harvest the same information as the more expensive MRI-scan. This results in a significant reduction in costs for hospitals, without the loss of diagnostic capabilities. Echography equipment is more widely used in the world than expensive MRI-scans – which are exclusive to richer, developed countries. Think of the medical progression you can make in third-world countries by making our technology accessible.”

Testbed: testing a medical innovation

The MicroSphere Creator is currently used in laboratories and R&D departments; its introduction in hospitals is a work in progress. Wim: “This introduction is not self-evident: we need to do testing and gain insight into how it would be used in hospital. What are the regulations to consider, and how does it fit into a doctor’s workflow? A few years ago we approached several doctors and veterinarians from our network in Twente. We asked them to attend a demonstration in a veterinary clinic: that session resulted in new ideas and practical issues to tackle. An example? We realized that when a doctor wants to make an ultrasound the patient is already ‘on the table.’ To produce and inject the microbubble fluid in that moment needs to be as simple and quick as possible. Consequently we, from the onset, developed a device with a simple, clear control panel. We now need to do systematic studies for clinical validation in multiple hospitals. We need to have eliminated all risk before testing on actual patients. We are deliberating with hospitals how to set up these studies and hope to be running patient tests in ten hospitals by 2016.”

From idea to company

“During my PhD I had plans to start this company related to my research. To find out if there was an actual demand for this innovation, after finishing my PhD in 2011 I started working for a pharmaceutical company that also produced microbubbles. They were enthusiastic about my research findings and plans. I joined forces with a professor in Spain, took out a patent, returned to Twente and gathered a team around me.” Kennispark Twente offers the TOP regulation to any innovative entrepreneur in the region that wants to start up in collaboration with University of Twente or Saxion (NB: Saxion is a college). It awarded Wim a loan of 40.000 Euros, which meant the start of the company Tide Microfluidics. “They are very supportive and offer advice on anything from business plans to legal issues.”

Twente: startups and partnerships

Wim is happy to be based in the Twente area. “We are located in a building on the Twente University campus called The Gallery, an inspiring environment that houses many other startups. “You face the same challenges and can learn from each other. The University of Twente and Saxion are fountains of knowledge and several of our employees are their graduates. This region is highly innovative in Nano and Microfluidic technology so I soundboard with other companies in the region and work together with companies for production and development. There are many people here that can help us take the next step.”

From competitions to SME grant

Last year, the company won the Coms2014 Young Technology Award in Salt Lake City and came second in the Dutch New Venture competition. This year, the young company was in the 6% of SMEs selected for the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument grant of the European Union out of 1900 applicants. When receiving this grant a company enters a process of two phases: the first, six-month, phase is designed to put the business plan in order. In the second phase you may apply for more funding and get your product to market. Tide Microfluidics is now rounding off the first phase: “In these past six months many pieces of the puzzle have come together. We have made concrete plans how to take the business further, we are negotiating with parties about financing and have received coaching about regulations for medical appliances and for setting up clinical studies. I suppose the best advice that I can give is to be sure to make clearly known what your ambitions and wishes are. That way, other people can give you directional help and advice.”

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