dossier

Healthy living in the future

11 October 2016 • 4 min reading time

Getting people of all ages active and keeping healthcare affordable while maintaining it at a high level of quality - that is the challenge we are facing. The government is placing the responsibility for healthy living more and more in the hands of citizens themselves; and they want to decide for themselves what is good for them. Businesses are actively responding through the provision of new health-related services. TNO is assisting both the public and private sectors with technological and social innovations designed to promote healthy living.

TNO is actively involved in four areas. Prevention - better than cure. Prediction - based on scientifically proven methods. Personal - custom-made lifestyle advice. Participation - everyone is involved with their own health. “These are the four Ps that inspire us every day,” says Niek Snoeij, Managing Director of Healthy Living at TNO. “TNO is known mostly on account of its technological innovations, but when it comes to healthy living we combine that with social innovation. This ranges, for example, from a completely different approach towards the labour market in order to help people with apparently no hope of a job, all the way to assisting pharmaceutical companies and the food industry in preventing diseases.”

Serving the public and private sectors

For TNO, the shift from the public to the private sector in the area of healthcare is a given. Collaborating with university hospitals, local authorities who have been allocated new tasks, the food industry, pharmaceuticals or businesses like Google or Philips who have a strong focus on health is as logical as it is useful. “Healthcare was once the domain of the public sector, but the market place is now an essential part of it. Consumers now use apps on their smartphones in order to organize their lives in a healthier manner. This does not involve the government or the insurance companies. At TNO, we work in partnership with both the public and private sectors, into which we pour our unique knowledge.”

Health and lifestyle

TNO is fully committed to better identifying the effects of lifestyle and diet on health. The way forward is for us to give each individual person custom-made advice on lifestyle and diet and for supermarkets and sports centres to adapt their day-to-day product ranges accordingly. Diets and allergies are currently the subject of the most outlandish theories. At TNO, our work is evidence-based - whatever we develop has to be fully substantiated. But researchers often stumble upon paradoxes. In their quest to find non-animal proteins, they discover attractive alternatives from plants and insects, but they do not yet know what the risk of new allergies is. “Here, scientific research and product development go hand in hand.”

“Consumers now use apps on their smartphones in order to organize their lives in a healthier manner. At TNO, we work in partnership with both the public and private sectors, into which we pour our unique knowledge”

Organ-on-a-chip

We are developing new methods and models with pharmaceutical companies in order to be able to assess the intended effectiveness of medicines on the human body. This is the predictive side of our work. There are many limitations to animal testing, quite apart from the ethical objections. New in vitro techniques make it possible to carry out tests on stem cells outside the body. As a result, it is much easier to replicate and study the functions of human organs. We are able to make 3D-printed infrastructures on which cells grow - ‘organ-on-a-chip’. This will make predicting the effects of medicines on patients much more accurate.

Future of work

Prevention and participation are the driving forces for TNO when it comes to the future of work. Now that it has become inevitable that people will have to work longer than in the past, we obviously want to stay healthy in the process. Here, too, there is a shift underway - whereas the government always looked after the interests of the employee with rules and regulations, it is now employers who are showing much more initiative in ensuring that employees are motivated and remain productive. At the same time, there are technological developments such as robotization and ever-greater digitization that threaten the less skilled areas of the labour market. TNO is carrying out research into these developments from a variety of angles, including healthcare, the labour market and ICT, and combinations of these. In doing so, TNO is helping central government, local authorities, benefit agencies, employer and employee organizations, and businesses respond effectively to the developments.

The first thousand days of life

For a long time, care for young children has been organized through consultation agencies and juvenile healthcare systems. New insights and new techniques mean that this care can be targeted more accurately and that it is more effective. A child’s development, height, and weight are measured frequently from the time he or she is born. The health professionals enter the data into a TNO system, which calculates whether there are any irregularities in the growth curve. For parents, there is the TNO iGrow app. Analysing all this data in a model for each sub-population or region enables care providers and parents to gain a clearer idea of any conditions a child may have and to provide targeted care, preferably of a preventive nature. This is of particular importance because the first thousand days - from the period of preconception to the age of nearly two years - are crucial for a child’s subsequent development into adulthood.

Personalized digital health

While politicians are discussing and deciding on the healthcare system, new technology is moving in such a way that consumers are gaining more control over their own health. The emergence of wearables - portable devices with health apps - is happening at a rapid pace. TNO is developing the Stresscoach, for example, which can help detect signs of stress at an earlier stage, and treat them. The downside of the many apps that can be used with smartphones is the interpretation and security of the data. For that reason, TNO is following not just the technological developments on the health app market, but is also assisting businesses with knowledge of the safe use of data, privacy protection and customer loyalty.

TNO will be publishing a number of white papers in the near future about the various subjects mentioned. They will contain more information about these topics and the developments in our research.

 

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