Saskia van Heumen TU Delft Best Graduate 2022

News - 22 November 2022 - Webredactie 3mE

On Tuesday 22nd November 2022, the announcement was made: 3mE’s Saskia van Heumen has been voted TU Delft’s Best Graduate 2022 for her outstanding research on the use of LED photoacoustics in treating Lymphoedema. Just minutes after receiving the award, van Heumen exclaimed “It’s the cherry on the cake, particularly given the standard of the other candidates.”

“Sublime graduation project”

Congratulating Saskia van Heumen on her win, the Dean of the 3mE Faculty Fred van Keulen, said: “I read through Saskia’s graduation project and it was sublime. The research is of an extremely high calibre, and once I started reading I was immediately struck by how meticulous and painstaking her work is, down to the very last detail. Our Faculty is enormously proud of her.”

New Technical Medicine programme

Van Heumen is graduate of the new Technical Medicine Master’s programme, which is an alliance between the Erasmus Medical Centre (EMC) in Rotterdam, the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC) and TU Delft. Says Jaap Harlaar Director of the Educational Programme of Technical Medicine: “I’m very proud that this award has been given to Saskia in honour of her outstanding innovative work in the clinical application of photoacoustics. And I’d also like to congratulate her supervisors and teachers in our Technical Medicine programme, started just 5 years ago!”

Photoacoustic imaging

Van Heumen’s Master’s research involved a new and promising technology known as photoacoustic imaging in which body tissue is scanned using LED light pulses: “LED light is absorbed, warming up the tissue which then expands and creates sound waves. As different types of tissue injected with contrast substances absorb light differently, you can use various wavelengths to create images that distinguish one tissue from another other. Put together, the resulting sound waves create an image.”

Lymphoedema following breast cancer

For her graduation project, van Heumen was keen to apply this new scanning technique to revealing the damaged lymph vessels that many breast cancer patients have as a result of fluid accumulation, or lympoedema, under their arms, prior to having a complicated type of by-pass operation: “This examination is usually done using another proven technique called near-infrared fluorescence (NIRF) imaging but this doesn’t show how deep the lymph vessels are and exactly where the blood vessels are.”

It’s the cherry on the cake, particularly given the standard of the other candidates.

Saskia van Heumen

“Determination, patience and sheer professionalism”

Van Heumen’s Master’s project supervisor, and Professor of Invasive Imaging Technology at EMC’s Cardiology Department, Gijs van Soest, was deeply impressed by van Heumen’s determination to get this project up-and-running: “I am still amazed by how far we got with this new collaborative project in just one year. From empty lab to completed enrolment in the clinical pilot study – and all of this with no budget, borrowed equipment, and trying to piece together documentation for the ethical committee by test reports written in Japanese – and all this with a pandemic going on!”

Eventually van Heumen was able to get to work on her research but not before a lot of hard work trying to convince the Medical Ethics Committee (METC) that the relatively new LED photoacoustic technique could be used in lymphoedema patients. “To get this technology into a clinical setting was a big, big challenge – to get it from the lab to the patients. There is only one person to whom this success can be attributed and that is Saskia.”