Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) across Europe are pushing boundaries in a variety of technical fields. Securing a European patent is a major step in building a thriving business around groundbreaking inventions, including for this year’s three finalists.
Laura van 't Veer and team
Genetic test to establish risk of metastasis after breast cancer, determining who needs chemotherapy
While survival rates for what is the most common cancer for women are rising, chemotherapy is expensive and the side effects can take a heavy toll.
Breast cancer genetics specialists, discovering the genetic signature indicating risk of metastasis
The risk of secondary cancer is genetic, but because of the work of Laura van 't Veer and her team, there is now a test to determine this risk. The consequence of the breakthrough is that not every breast cancer sufferer will need chemotherapy. While survival rates for what is the most common cancer for women are rising, chemotherapy is expensive and the side effects can take a heavy toll. After over 20 years studying genetic traits of breast cancer, van ’t Veer and the team at the Netherlands Cancer Institute discovered a genetic signature consisting of 70 genes, which determines the likelihood of secondary cancers. This monumental find led the researchers to found Agendia, a company aiming to collect a library of genetic markers. Agendia also performs the analysis for the genetic signature test, known as the MammaPrint. The test, which has been used by patients in over 30 countries, uses microarray chip technology, checking levels of mRNA to determine the risk of metastasis. It is also final scientific proof of the “soil and seed” hypothesis from 1889, which proposed that metastasis is based on predisposition.
Low-cost food supplement to combat malnutrition without medical supervision
Unlike traditional nutrition powders, Plumpy’Nut does not need to be mixed with potentially contaminated water.
Food processing engineer, working to tackle global hunger with ready-to-use therapeutic food
Plumpy’Nut has already saved the lives of tens of thousands of children, as this ready-to-use therapeutic food is proving an efficient weapon against malnutrition. Developed by French food processing engineer Michel Lescanne, Plumpy’Nut is now being used by humanitarian groups such as UNICEF to treat starving children. The product delivers protein, vitamins and calories in a peanut paste, helping children suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition to gain weight. Plumpy’Nut requires no hospitalisation or doctor supervision, and unlike traditional nutrition powders, it does not need to be mixed with potentially contaminated water. Lescanne has been working on malnutrition since completing his agricultural engineering degree in 1976, and his company Nutriset created the first successful therapeutic milk to combat malnutrition. Lescanne’s work resulted in the creation of Plumpy’Nut, the first ready-to-use therapeutic food developed to meet UNICEF specifications. A seven-week treatment costs €30 and will take a child from starving to stable. Approximately 800 million people around the world do not have access to sufficient food sources, and the World Health Organisation estimates that malnutrition is linked to roughly 45% of deaths of children under five.
John Elvesjö, Mårten Skogö and team
Eye-tracking sensor technology, which enables communication for people with severe disabilities
Retinal movement tracking means sufferers of cerebral palsy, spinal injuries or severe multiple sclerosis can communicate with the world.
Engineer and physicist, developing touchless human-machine interaction devices
Eye-tracking technology has unlocked the ability to lead a more independent life for people with severe disabilities. Retinal movement tracking means sufferers of cerebral palsy, spinal injuries or severe multiple sclerosis can communicate with the world via speech-generating programmes. Famously, ALS-sufferer Stephen Hawking has seen his quality of life improve with this technology. But the breakthrough leading to the visual observation technology was actually unintentional, when then-student John Elvesjö realised a particle sensor was following his eye movements. Realising the possibilities, the Swedish engineer and physicist co-founded Tobii to develop the idea. Elvesjö has since filed 13 patents for the method, which uses infrared light sources to track reflections from the eye to where it lands. While over 2.5 million people around the world are living with mobility-impairing injuries, plenty of everyday tasks have been made easier by eye-tracking sensors too, from driving and computing to game play and market research. Tobii is now a global player in touchless human-machine interaction devices, a market estimated to reach €34.4 billion by 2020.