Young Inventors Prize for Dutch AI chemistry kit

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Dutch scientist Rochelle Niemeijer has been named the winner of the Young Inventors Prize of the European Inventor Award 2024 out of three finalists. This was announced today by the European Patent Office (EPO). She receives the prize for the rapid, affordable and data-driven diagnostic tool she invented that can identify bacterial infections and enable better treatment.

Linked to the award is a cash prize of 20,000 euros for Rochelle's artificial intelligence (AI)-based portable miniature laboratory. With it, infection-causing bacteria can be quickly identified. "Making new diagnostic technologies like ours accessible to patients requires trust and support. The Young Inventors Prize from the EPO will go a long way in helping us gain that trust and transform patient care," said Rochelle Niemeijer.

Treating urinary tract infections

Rochelle's solution specifically targets urinary tract infections. This is the most common type of infection affecting more than 400 million people each year. The chemistry kit is especially suitable in treating urinary tract infections. More than half (50 - 60%) of women experience a urinary tract infection at least once in their lifetime. Many treatments are carried out without adequate diagnosis and there can be overuse of antibiotics, a major concern that Niemeijer wanted to address.

"If we don't change our behavior soon, we won't be able to treat infections with the existing antibiotics in the near future. The development of new antibiotics is going slower than the increase in resistant bacteria. To maintain the efficacy of existing and new antibiotics, we must use them properly. Our test was developed to make that possible," Niemeijer says.

Succesful startup

To develop the data-driven diagnostic tool, Rochelle founded her own MedTech startup Nostics through which she raised 10 million euros. With that money, she was able to develop the tool in the form of a handheld platform for doctors to address this problem. The AI-based device allows doctors to quickly identify bacteria that cause infections. Subsequently, antibiotics can be prescribed very accurately.

An added benefit is that a combination of laser technology in the form of SERS (surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy) chips with artificial intelligence-powered digital software can identify bacteria within 15 minutes, without the need for expensive laboratory equipment or expertise.

AI in diagnostics

The breakthrough of AI has also been in full swing within healthcare for several years. In 2022, a team of cardiologists at Catharina Hospital investigated whether artificial intelligence could be used to diagnose heart failure from a single heart clip. A development that, if successful, will bring artificial intelligence into the cardiologist's consulting room.

Late last year, Philips introduced several new IT solutions using AI for improving diagnoses. Systems that are vendor-independent, offer an advanced platform for multiple modalities and are suitable for cardiology, oncology, neurology and radiology.