Diagnoptics: from coincidence to global success
What started as an accidental discovery during clinical research, became the AGE Reader, used in hospitals and pharmacies around the globe. Diagnoptics provides the medical world with a fast and safe way to diagnose heart disease, early stage diabetes and kidney failure. “It’s just fantastic to realize your product is helping people on the far side of the world.”
The story of Diagnoptics or rather, the invention behind the company, began in 1995, when Dr. Andries Smit accidentally discovered something during his research on diabetes and vascular leakage. When you check the blood vessels for leakage, it’s not uncommon to inject a fluid that lights up in a scanner. Smit however, also discovered other things lighting up, without even injecting fluorescent fluids.
AGEs: what searing a tasty steak and heart disease have in common
When you sear or grill a steak, the process of it going from red to delicious brown is a chemical process, called the Maillard reaction. Very simply put, you bake something, it turns brown, because of the reaction between sugars and amino acids when you apply heat. That same chemical reaction also happens in our bodies and the result is called advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs).
Having too many AGEs in your body has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and kidney failure. And it just so happens these things also light up when you use a scanner. With the help of physicist Reindert Graaff, Smit built a prototype scanner in 1996 and, after a long series of trials, the two founded Diagnoptics in 2003.
The long road to the Deloitte Fast50
“It takes a very long time to launch a product in the medical world”, Diagnoptics CEO Bart van den Berg explains. “There’s the trials, patent application and approval, but that’s just the beginning. We found out that the time it takes from invention to market and the time from market launch to success, are just as long. The medical world is incredibly conservative and it takes a long time for something new to become accepted for everyday use.”
After the CE mark approval of their newest scanner in 2013, things suddenly took flight for Diagnoptics. Last year they were ranked 33rd in Deloitte’s list of 50 fastest growing tech companies and 1st in the Life Sciences category.
“Our close ties to the Groningen University Hospital are part of the reason of our success”, van den Berg continues. “After all our founders started there and know what it’s like to use something in a hospital situation. For example, Dr. Smit told us we had to design the reader so it could scan without people having to take their watch off. When we asked why, he said: “Have you ever tried to help an 80 year-old man take his watch off? That’s 8 very long extra minutes!””, van den Berg laughs.
“We designed it so that it’s fast and safe, but also small, easy, and practical to use. When you design something for researchers, they’ll gladly stand on one leg with a hand in front of one eye to be able to use it. But for patients, well, it just has to be fast and practical.”
And because the reader is so practical, a lot of other companies are also interested: “Large companies selling dietary supplements for example”, van den Berg explains. “AGEs and healthy living are trends right now, so if pharmacies have readers that can scan people in seconds and give them data they can use, that’s very helpful. We’ve even had interest from big cosmetics companies. AGE’s also show up in the skin and cause wrinkles.”
Smart and wearable, for cosmetics and pro athletes
It’s about more than money though. “It’s just fantastic to realize your product is helping people on the far side of the world. And we’re a really small company of 15 people, with currently 3500 of our AGE readers in hospitals in Japan, China, Germany and Great Britain. That’s really rewarding.”
Diagnoptics plans to grow further, but not just in the medical world. “We definitely want to go towards wearables and using bluetooth, creating an even smaller scanner. We’re also want to be more involved in the sports industry. AGEs also show up in muscles and tendons, so that means our reader could also scan for sports injuries or even tell professional athletes when it’s safe to start competing again after an injury.”