STW.nl

You are here

Andrew Webb to receive the 2017 Simon Stevin Master Prize

Andrew Webb to receive the 2017 Simon Stevin Master Prize

8 September 2017

Prof. Andrew Webb, Professor of MRI Physics at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) has been awarded the 2017 NWO Simon Stevin Master Prize. The prize includes a cash award of 500,000 euros. Prof. Webb is planning to use the cash to develop new MRI techniques that allow diseases to be detected in much earlier stages. He is also developing mobile MRI scanners that can be used in developing countries.
 
Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI is a technique that makes detailed images of the body using powerful magnetic fields. MRI scans generate clear images of even the most minor abnormalities. Prof. Andrew Webb of the LUMC nevertheless feels there is room for improvement. ‘Our most important goal is to develop new MRI techniques that allow better medical diagnoses to be made and therefore diseases to be detected earlier,’ says Prof. Webb.
 
Early diagnosis is of essential importance in diseases that can still be treated readily in the earlier stages. Healthy people with a family history of hereditary diseases such as Huntington’s disease, could benefit greatly from improved MRI scanners. Eye tumours and the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s are other examples of diseases that would benefit from detection in the earlier stages. 
 
To realise the new MRI techniques, Prof. Webb’s team uses a very powerful magnet of which there are only about 60 available around the world. They are designing and building the scanning equipment required themselves. As soon as the technology is mature, they will bring it to market through partners such as Philips, but also a number of smaller companies.
 
Scanner in a pick-up truck for developing countries
Not only does Prof. Webb’s team want to develop the most powerful scanner in the world, they also want to design the smallest and cheapest. It is specifically intended for developing countries where the majority of the population has almost no access to modern healthcare techniques. According to Prof. Webb, the primary application of the ‘budget scanner’ is in paediatrics, such as in the detection of hydrocephalus (‘water on the brain’).
 
Prof. Webb: ‘We are trying to develop a more or less portable MRI scanner that fits in a pick-up truck. The device will have a weak magnet and simple electronics that can be repaired locally.’
 
Budget scanner makes top scanner even better
The problem is that less powerful magnets generate far less defined images. Prof. Webb is working with a team from Delft University of Technology to solve this issue. They are identifying mathematical techniques that allow optimal images to be filtered from all MRI scans. 
 
This research was found to deliver an important unexpected effect, because using the mathematical equation from the cheap scanner on the powerful scanner led to significantly accelerated scanning processes. ‘And that is very important,’ says Prof. Webb, ‘because patients never lie completely still. Their movements decrease the resolution of the scan.’ 
 
It was true scientific cross-fertilisation: mathematical techniques for a cheap device focused on developing countries could improve a highly sophisticated MRI scanner.
 
Off the beaten track
Prof. Webb is truly deserving of the Simon Stevin Master Prize for his prominent scientific research and the way he builds bridges between research, industry and hospitals. His particular strength is finding solutions off the beaten track. His work to improve MRI images does not necessarily use expensive technological solutions, but instead makes clever use of simple materials that offer the same benefits. His methods are considered highly innovative and are already being used at various hospitals.
 
The directors of NWO Domain Applied Engineering Sciences (AES) highly rate Prof. Webb’s special approach which ensures that his innovative research is immediately applicable. It contributes to the Netherlands’ prominent position in the field of medical imaging. Prof. Webb will accept his prize during TEKNOWLOGY, the AES annual congress on 9 November 2017.
 
More about Andrew Webb
Prof. Andrew Webb is a leading scientific researcher in the field of MRI, with an exceptional sense of practical application. He collaborates with larger players in the MRI world, such as Philips Healthcare, and smaller companies such as AR Benelux and Machnet. He is also a cofounder of Magnetic Resonance Microsensors in the US, a worldwide supplier of integrated microscopic nuclear magnetic resonance equipment. He was awarded an Open Mind subsidy worth 50,000 euros last year for his research on simple MRI equipment for developing countries.
 
Prof. Webb is affiliated with the Leiden University Medical Center and a director of the C.J. Gorter Centre for High Field MRI.