UT professor Sabine Siesling has been researching breast cancer for years. The Hengelo native also chairs the Technology for Women's Health research programme. "Within this programme, we focus on conditions that occur only or mainly in women, but also on differences between men and women for the same condition," she explains. Breast cancer is an example, where we are working on personalisation of (after)care, new diagnostics that use a combination of light and ultrasound to detect breast cancer and new robotic-guided breast biopsy systems. "But we also have projects on pelvic prolapse, breastfeeding and what you encounter as a woman in the process."
Internationally, there is an increasing focus on women's health. Necessary, as it was underrepresented for a long time. Siesling: "When developing medicine, men are often chosen as test subjects because hormonal fluctuations in women can confuse the results. That barrier hasn't been settled yet, but it should be because the effect can be very different for a woman."
Women's symptoms are also different in certain disease states. "Due to changes after menopause, heart complaints can arise that are often not very specific and do not resemble the complaints a man has with the same abnormality. The complaints are not recognised, or the alarm is raised too late. With our investigations, we want to detect such problems earlier. If complaints are recognised earlier, something can also be done about them earlier. Besides, there is limited medical technology developed and available for various women's disorders."
A year and a half ago, Technology for Women's Health was launched. This brings together the work of forty UT researchers doing something with technology and women's health. "The subject of Women's Health is not unique. Other universities are also doing research on women's health. But that it is being picked up on such a broad scale with a focus on technology and data, the University of Twente is really unique in that," says Siesling. "It is quite special that this is happening in Twente."
The studies look at women's health from different angles. Based on data, differences between men and women are studied. All age categories are taken into account. The University of Twente works closely with the Twente hospitals MST and ZGT and also charts the experiences of healthcare providers and patients. "From different perspectives, we get to hear a story. This creates a legs-to-table discussion, where you hear what is really needed."
One such conversation addressed, for example, patients' quality of life 10 years after being treated for breast cancer. Siesling: "Usually in healthcare it's about the period of treatment and a short period afterwards. That is good in itself, but it is also very interesting to know what the cosmetic outcome of surgery is ten years later. How satisfied is someone with the decision-making at the time? Such themes surface during the workshops we organise."
The technology being developed by UT researchers should improve women's health, care and quality of life. "For example, we are working on prediction models. What is the likelihood of a condition like breast cancer returning? How can you factor that into decisions to provide (after-)care? And should a patient return annually for a mammogram, or is that unnecessary for a low-risk patient? With a multidisciplinary team of healthcare providers, researchers, patients and patient representatives, we address such questions. In this way, we also look at medical technologies that are still in their infancy. How can we bring them to the market, what are the preferences of patients and healthcare providers in this regard, and what will they bring to society? Through this new collaboration, we are positioned better to design new data strategies and technologies for and with women, and to empower women through knowledge and innovation."
Thus, the Technology for Women's Health research programme is making significant progress, aiming to keep women healthier for longer, prevent or detect diseases at an early stage, and deliver personalised care in case of illness. Particular results have not yet emerged from the consortium's first year and a half, but Siesling has noticed increasing attention to the topic. "The other day we had a TechMed meeting with the topic of Personalised Medicine. The room we had for it was too small, people were 'hanging out with their legs'. It is good to see that there is more and more attention to this topic, also internationally. That gives research a huge boost."
Date: 23 November 2022 |
Author: Willem Korenromp