SensUs Interview: Steven Staal

Steven Staal is the chair of the Creativity jury of SensUs 2019.  Under his supervision, the creativity award will be presented to the team that has the most surprising results and thereby sets a new standard for the upcoming years. SensUs spoke with him about his daily activities, his motivation to join the jury of SensUs 2019 and the future of point of care testing. 


Thanks for joining the jury of SensUs 2019. Can you tell us who you are and what are your daily activities?

My name is Steven Staal and I have an electrical engineering background with specialization in Lab on a Chip systems. I graduated as MSc in the Lab-on-a-Chip group from Albert van den Berg from the University of Twente in 2004. After my graduation I continued the PhD research results of Elwin Vrouwe and started a new company with the vision to create a new self test based on electrophoresis. With our company, and 14 years of experience later, we now have a self test in the market that can measure multiple parameters at once like Sodium, Potassium, Lithium and Creatinine from one droplet, in urine, plasma or fingerstick whole blood.

What is your passion and/or your mission?

My passion is to create new technologies and to successfully place them in the market. I like the combined challenge of technology development while covering all other business aspects at the same time. I am driven by a combination of strong motivation, strive for success and embracing and finishing challenges. With this mindset, together with our team, we developed the first electrophoresis based self test for the medical market to be used by patients with bipolar disorder by measuring lithium, creatinine and the kidney function. The system is now used by multiple health care clinics in the Netherlands.

You have joined the jury of SensUs 2019. What do you expect from being on the SensUs jury? What has been your motivation?

The development activities are generally much underestimated. I know how many challenges are ahead and how long it takes to actually successfully go through each phase from idea to market. Not only with the technology itself, but also with the organization. I am looking forward to see how other teams are preparing themselves and I hope to be able to share some of my experiences with the teams.

 The theme of SensUs 2019 is “Managing rheumatic disease, by measuring with ease”. How do you view this theme? What does it mean to you and/or to society?

A friend of mine did his PhD in characterizing the degree of Rheumatoid Arthritis from images of the hand. This is how far I came with this specific disease, so regretfully my understanding of this illness itself is very little. But I do have experience with technology development for self tests use including validation studies and legislation requirements. I am looking forward to hear about the expected activities by the other teams and see similarities and/or differences in the product development.

The student teams have worked to make biosensors and business models for the measurement of adalimumab, an antirheumatic biological drug. How do you view the relevance of measuring biological drugs, for patients, doctors, and/or society?

I cannot estimate the relevance of measuring adalimumab as a self test myself, but I know the relevance for measuring other drugs like for instance lithium for patients with bipolar disorder. These advantages are expected to be really significant. Having quickly available measurement results at any location improves health care at multiple points. First, the patients will gain more patient empowerment, therapy loyalty and will experience a better treatment itself. Secondly, the specialist will be able to measure at once with the outcome directly obtained. As a consequence, treatments will be induced directly and follow up due to ill treatment or delayed treatment will be reduced. This reduces the complexity of the treatment process from the view of the specialist and improves patient treatment. Thirdly having more self tests available, treatments become more efficient with better care which reduces the tension to the health care system and thus improves the quality of life of patients and/or reduces the health care costs.

More in general, how do you see the future for point-of-care testing and biosensors for patient monitoring? Where can biosensors have impact, and what do you think are the main challenges in realizing and applying such biosensors?

I expect that the medical relevance of biosensors can become very significant. Creating new information at the location we desire ourselves gives the possibility to directly act on the outcome, make the right decision and have immediate follow up. Communicating the obtained information with the specialist will make it possible to make more complex follow up possible.Outside the medical market we already measure many parameters on site, like length, weight, temperature and more. Just imagine how difficult it will be to build a house if the length and angle measurements are done in a laboratory… we just forget that this is still often the case in daily medicine. So, I expect that on site biosensors are for sure an important part of the future for better patient treatment and health care. Currently self test measurements are still available in limited numbers. With the new emerging technologies we are just at the beginning of creating the possibility to measure many more parameters on site. In the next decades I expect that more technologies will become available. However, the first medical acceptance will not go quickly as the new information needs to be analyzed on relevance, impact and it should be accepted by all different medical parties involved, this is a time consuming process.

Steven Iron