Life science & health

Photonics pioneer Pim Kat finds application for revolutionary measurement technology in diagnosing heart failure

After the sale of his company Technobis in 2019, Pim Kat only wanted to do fun technical things in the field of photonics, with which he has been pioneering for fifteen years. But the blood crawls where it can’t go.

With photonics champion Ton Backx and two doctors, he has already started a new company with Amazec Photonics. With this he wants to develop a revolutionary photonics application for diagnosing heart failure. Kat’s ‘old’ company Technobis and the recently split off PhotonFirst are of service to the technology partners.

Heart failure affects the quality of life for many people. The heart can no longer pump blood properly, which causes many complaints, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, palpitations and swollen legs and ankles. To diagnose the ailment, doctors conduct examinations of the circulation. This can be done, for example, by monitoring radioactive particles in the blood, but there are of course drawbacks. A common method is to inject cold saline, about ten cc, into a patient’s vein and insert a thermal sensor through a catheter into the pulmonary artery. The sensor can thus detect the passage of that cold ‘blob’ into the heart, after which measuring the temperature change says something about the condition of the heart. However, the measurement has a very limited resolution (distinguishing power) and therefore does not provide a lot of information.

Simple method, better analysis

The recently retired Erik Korsten has been researching it for years. He worked as an anesthesiologist/intensivist at the Eindhoven Catharina Hospital and is a part-time professor at Eindhoven University of Technology and a Chinese university. A few years ago, during a trade mission in China, he got into a conversation with TU/e ​​professor Ton Backx. As president of the Eindhoven Institute for Photonic Integration and CEO (until early 2019) of cluster organization PhotonDelta, Backx is the pioneer in the field of photonics in Eindhoven.

At the bar in China, Korsten poured out his professional heart to Backx, who came up with concrete advice: “If you want to measure accurately, you should go to Pim Kat.” Kat: “Erik did come to visit, mainly out of politeness, because it couldn’t be anything. I still had a setup for ASML, which we had already built ten years ago. This enabled us to measure temperature changes up to a hundred thousandth of a degree in a 450-millimeter wafer table with a fiberglass measuring system. I let Erik move his hand towards the fiber and we saw a very strong signal on the screen due to the heat radiation. Erik was immediately convinced: “If we start measuring with this, we will have much more resolution and can therefore make better analyses.”

Light technology with Technobis and PhotonFirst

Starting out as a researcher at Hoogovens (today’s Tata Steel), Pim Kat chose entrepreneurship in the 1990s. He started Technobis in Uitgeest, with which he focused on mechatronic system delivery and later took over the crystallization branch of research company Avantium. Over fifteen years ago, Kat started pioneering integrated photonics. Data communication based on this light technology offers much more capacity with a much lower energy consumption than the current semiconductor-based electronics. In addition, photonics offers unprecedented opportunities for sensing using fiber optic detection systems that contain integrated photonic chips. If a glass fiber changes length under the influence of mechanical or thermal influences, this can be measured very accurately with light sent through the fiber. Technobis has developed applications for monitoring the ‘structural integrity’ of aircraft, precision machines (for ASML) and structures such as bridges.