A new state-of-the-art facility featuring cutting-edge techniques and technology
When the Amsterdam UMC Imaging Center opens in 2019, it will add unique features to the Netherlands’ already thriving health and life sciences cluster. First, it is by far the biggest concentration of cutting-edge medical imaging techniques in Europe. Second, as home to the latest innovations in diagnosis-support, it will allow radiologists and nuclear physicians to better examine the anatomical structures and physiological, metabolic and molecular processes of the human body. This enables them to select the right treatment for the right patient at the right time. Third, a uniquely equipped lab will speed up medical and pharmaceutical research and help reduce the costs of developing new medicines and treatments. And finally, a well-established radio-pharmaceutical manufacturer ensures the availability of medical isotopes. Eventually, the entire medical world will benefit from this.
Guus van Dongen and Bert Windhorst, professors working within the Department of Radiology & Nuclear Medicine at the Amsterdam University Medical Center (Amsterdam UMC), say that “the Imaging Center is a nucleus for improvement of all health-related activities in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area and beyond”.
Photo: Professors Bert Windhorst and Guus van Dongen
Cementing Amsterdam’s reputation as a leader in life sciences and health
It all started with realising that patients who were going to get an MRI-, CT-, or PET-scan were able to choose from 20 different locations in the Amsterdam Area alone. Among those locations were both the VUmc and AMC, which were then still operating as independent academic medical centres. By creating one imaging centre, where all techniques are available to support diagnoses, Van Dongen and Windhorst concluded that many challenges would be solved.
The new Amsterdam UMC Imaging Center will allow patients suffering from diseases such as cancer, failures of the immune system, neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s or cardiovascular diseases to visit just one location for all their necessary medical imaging activities. This helps to reduce waiting lists, helps to improve early diagnosis and treatment selection as well as to better plan and coordinate clinical treatment. It will also make it easier to attract the investments and grants needed to purchase the latest innovations in the field of imaging technologies and to create a sustainable building suitable to house and facilitate these.
“At first, we were very focused on improving the infrastructure,” adds Van Dongen. “But during our discussions with stakeholders - including patient organisations - our perception changed. It became a common belief that imaging should be a more dominant factor in the value chain of healthcare. Today’s imaging techniques make it possible to diagnose more efficiently and earlier, and therefore to personalise medicine. You are able to diagnose the effect of a treatment on a patient in real-time and reduce the risk that it will not be effective on that person. Research shows that only 40 per cent of treatments are fully functional, the rest are suboptimal at best. On top of that, better imaging also helps to reduce costs.”
Merging two of the Netherlands’ leading academic hospitals
The change in perception turned out to be a strong supporter of the Amsterdam UMC Imaging Center. Gradually, financing* was realised. And as the plans began to materialise, the realisation grew that the project should also be a starting point for the modernisation of the university campus with its academic hospital on the edge of the Zuidas, the financial and consultancy district in the south of Amsterdam.
“This example shows that we are able to organise the health cluster much more efficiently,” Van Dongen says. “Actually, because the two academic medical centres had to cooperate so intensively in creating this, the discussions inspired our board to start thinking of merging into the present Amsterdam UMC.”
Photo: Professor Bert Windhorst
Producing medical isotopes to help patients across the Netherlands
The construction of the new building, overlooking the high-rises of the Zuidas, is now in its final stage. A tour allows visitors to see exactly what to expect when the new centre is fully operational.
Four cyclotrons will be located in the strong-walled basement. These are small particle accelerators, designed for the production of medical isotopes. The use of medical isotopes is an essential element for both disease-specific diagnostic imaging and nuclear therapy. By producing isotopes on location, the Imaging Center will be fully self-sufficient and able to ensure the supply of the tracers. Moreover, these cyclotrons are providing tracers for more than 50,000 patients treated in Dutch hospitals on a yearly basis.
Introducing new imaging methods and treatments for patients
The three floors above the basement are designated for the actual imaging and treatment of patients. This is the heart of the operation, and estimates show that at least 100,000 patient scans will be made here each year. This equals the combined total of all the other locations in the Amsterdam Area where medical imaging is available.
Tracer Center Amsterdam and LaserLab
The third floor will house the Tracer Center Amsterdam, where medical tracers are produced under highly controlled and sterile laboratory conditions. They are used to trace diseases on a molecular level and in real-time, to follow the medicines in the body during treatment, and to observe the patient’s reaction to treatment.
The top floor is reserved for the LaserLab. In this lab, cutting-edge optical laser techniques are developed, a speciality for which Amsterdam UMC is known worldwide. “We create solutions for real-time guidance for surgeons and operating room staff during operations,” Van Dongen explains. “The success rate of all clinical treatments improves because of this.”
Bringing together top scientists from all over the world
Because of the concentration of special capabilities, skills and technologies, the Amsterdam UMC Imaging Center is already a magnet for international collaboration. On a daily basis, the brightest minds in the imaging sector apply to be a part of the project. Moreover, the biggest and most influential MedTech and pharmaceutical companies want to collaborate – and many are already doing so.
“By using our research-infrastructure and networks, pharmaceutical companies are able to accelerate the development process of drugs and treatments considerably, by picking up those with the highest potential for medical impact. Also, it enables them to establish if a medicine is not doing what it is expected to do at an early stage,’ Van Dongen says. “My estimate is that this can shorten the development process by a couple of years on average. Mind you, a successfully tested medicine will be available sooner. Also, the costs of development - that can amount to more than one billion US dollars - are reduced considerably, shortening the payback time for the industry. In combination with the arrival of the European Medicines Agency next summer, Amsterdam is the centre in Europe for the development of new drugs and treatments. This creates exciting new possibilities for the future growth of bio and life sciences in the Amsterdam Area.”
*Amsterdam UMC Imaging Center is made possible because of contributions from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the City of Amsterdam, the Department of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands, and the Province of Noord-Holland. It is actively supported by Amsterdam Economic Board and Amsterdam Marketing.