ITF: Life has changed

In an exclusive series of blogs, imec’s science writers report from the International Technology Forum (ITF) in Brussels. This year, ITF’s theme was “It’s a changing world. Let’s make a sustainable change together”. More info: www.itf2012.com

Life has changed. Take for example the energy problems we are facing today, or the many diseases people have to deal with. Luc Van den hove, President and CEO of imec calls on the industry to create a sustainable change to deal with these problems. And the way to do this is by bringing together different technologies, expertises and by leveraging synergies among various disciplines. “Open innovation is the way to go,” underlines Van den hove.

One domain in which the potential of cross-disciplinary innovation is enormous is healthcare. “Today we treat diseases in a generic way, we diagnose and treat diseases when symptoms occur. It’s time for a drastic change towards a more personalized, preventive, predictive and participative healthcare system,” states Van den hove. He compares the change to come with the change that microelectronics has gone through: from mainframe to desktop pc to smartphone. “We will see the same revolution in diagnostics, enabled by the tremendous progress in ICT,” says Van den hove. “We will migrate from big medical analysis tools in large labs towards desktop like diagnostic tools in the practice of a healthcare practitioner.” As an example of this evolution Van den hove shows the Biocartis molecular diagnostics platform. “Or think of a blood glucose meter connected with your smartphone to do measurements in your home environment,” says Van den hove. As an example of imec research in the domain of diagnostics, Van den hove tells about the goal to make a chip with thousands of parallel inspection circuits able to inspect 20 million cells per second. By combining electronics, microfluidics, imaging hardware and cancer research, a chip could be made for the early detection of cancer cells in blood.

Van den hove ends its presentation with the remark that business has changed. Before, big companies used the fully captive model in which research, development and manufacturing were performed by three separate organizations within the company. “With the huge challenges we are facing today, it is clear that the captive model has become unaffordable and ineffective,” says Van den hove, “the only way to achieve real innovation is through open innovation.” Van den hove talks by experience. In its various research programs, imec has set up a full ecosystem of research groups and companies covering the whole value chain. “Confronting different ideas and opinions, sharing resources and expertise across companies, institutes, countries and continents is the fundament of sustainable business for a sustainable world,” concludes Van den hove.

Els Parton, Science editor imec

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