Portrait and video Mischa Hoogeman: “Create a collaborative community”

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Today's cancer treatments can be more precise and much more tailored to the individual. As a clinical physicist, Professor Mischa Hoogeman wants to contribute to this. He is affiliated with Erasmus MC and now, as Medical Delta Professor, also with Delft University of Technology. "I sometimes say that I have a Medical Delta within me. I am a physicist and work as a healthcare specialist at the same time."

“The Medical Delta professorship is a recognition for me," Hoogeman says. "It opens doors and helps me make connections. It enables me to point out to TU Delft researchers what is important in clinical practice. And vice versa, to show the clinic what is possible in physics.

In the video below, Mischa Hoogeman tells about his Medical Delta professorship:

I myself am a physicist and after completing my PhD and a postdoc, I specialised as a clinical physicist. This moved me a little further away from fundamental science, and closer to application. I sometimes say that I have a Medical Delta within me. I am a physicist and work as a healthcare specialist at the same time."

Can you give an example of a successful connection?

"A good example is a study with a group from the reactor institute at TU Delft. During a meeting, it emerged that they had developed a clever calculation method for carrying out uncertainty analyses for research into nuclear reactors. In clinical practice we had problems with similar calculations for proton therapy. In the end, we wrote a research proposal together, which was granted by KWF Dutch Cancer Society. The research is ongoing and is already yielding good results. Using this new calculation method, we can now make the radiation fields smaller for the same effect on the tumour in some cases. This is better for the healthy tissue and thus for the patient's quality of life. 

This calculation method was unknown in the clinic, and the clinic's problem was unknown to the physicists at TU Delft. These kinds of encounters and ideas for collaboration often happen by chance. Via Medical Delta, this is more structured.” 

How will a patient benefit from these collaborations?

"Collaborations like this are very valuable for people with cancer. We are moving away from a one-size-fits-all treatment towards a customised treatment that takes into account the differences between patients. With less doses, or higher doses, according to the patients’ needs. The goal is better treatment, with less damage and better control of the tumour."

Where does technology fit in this picture?

"Optimising treatments involves several disciplines. Mathematics, for example. You have to be able to calculate quickly and accurately to determine the right dose. Verification is important, using detectors to determine whether you are right. Industrial design can help by developing a good interface for the practitioner. Finally, automation plays an increasingly important role. Customised treatments are better for the patient, but also very labour-intensive. There is too little staff to do this on a large scale. We are therefore looking at what we can automate and how we can design smarter treatment with the help of technology. We want to use Artifical Intelligence to make the radiation plan. But then the clinical physicist in me comes into play. Because how do we do that safely? You're dealing with a black box and how can you be sure that the best treatment will come out of it? As a clinical physicist, you are trained to ensure that new techniques of this kind are used safely and responsibly in healthcare."

Where will Medical Delta be in ten years, will there be one big university?

"I don't know if we will have one large university. I think it is particularly important to create a community in which people work together. Medical Delta already does that and we would like to see it intensified. For example, technicians working in groups at a UMC and vice versa: clinical people at the TU. Bringing people on the work floor is very important for cross-pollination. It is also good that real specialists remain. With an in-depth understanding of their discipline. Who are then regularly exposed to the problems of clinical practice.” 

What is your advice for successful collaboration?

"Stick to the content. Formulate a question for a problem and use that to start the conversation. You have to be able to convey to the technician what the real clinical problem is. Invest time in this. It's an interaction in which you learn from each other and understand how things work. In the clinic, you might want to have a solution to a problem by tomorrow. That's not how a physicist works. And a physicist does not always have an eye on the process needed to implement something in clinical practice. It is then very important to set the right expectations. Realise that these kinds of collaborations are often an investment for the future. It might not help you tomorrow, but in the long run it could be the best solution to your problem."

Which other researcher has left you surprised?

"With Zoltán Perkó from TU Delft I have the most collaborations. He has a mathematical and physical background, but understands the clinical problem well. He is constantly developing towards the clinical side and puts a lot of effort into increasing that knowledge. I find that really special."

This article is part of a series in which we highlight the nine new Medical Delta professors. Click here for the other portraits that have been published so far. Mischa Hoogeman's research contributes to the HollandPTC Medical Delta programme on HTA value proposition.

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