Ton van der Steen

‘Diagnosis before symptoms are experienced. And if treatment is necessary, it should be as minimally invasive as possible.’



Ton van der Steen is Head of Biomedical engineering at Erasmus MC. He has a Master in Applied Physics from TU Delft (1989) and a PhD in Medical Sciences from Nijmegen University (1994). In 2002, he was appointed Professor of Biomedical Engineering in Cardiology at Erasmus University. He is Fellow of IEEE and of the European Society of Cardiology, and member of the Netherlands Academy of Engineering (AcTI) and the Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW). Van der Steen is professor at TU Delft, faculty of Applied Sciences and honorary visiting professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, located at Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technologies.


TU Delft: Faculty of Applied Sciences
Erasmus MC: Biomedical Engineering, Transducers and intravascular techniques, Head of the department


Member of the Programme Committtee

Early diagnosis is key

Combining light and ultrasound

‘See, this is a catheter that we developed here. It has a light that can rotate and enables us to use near infrared spectroscopy. Chemical analyses on plaques in the arteries can be conducted at this wavelength. But to really benefit from such a catheter you also need to be able to see where the fatty deposits are located: you need to be able to take pictures. These catheters are manufactured by an Ameri- can company in Burlington, just outside Boston. They already had a catheter that could be used for spectroscopy. I man- aged to convince the director that imaging was also essential. I suggested light to make the image while he suggested ul- trasound. As it happens, I know quite a lot about ultrasound.

‘I remember it well... I was in a taxi from Boston to Burlington, on my way to the company. I man- aged to gather a team that was to bring this about by just phoning around. By the time I arrived at the company I had formed a team. The entire team was part of the Medical Delta alliance. The ultrasound element comes from Delft, and the knowledge to build the catheter and the electronics come from Rotterdam.‘

High-tech, low cost healthcare

‘Indeed, I am also a professor in China! To be honest, I was utterly stunned when the Dutch Embassy in China informed me that I was the first Dutchman affil- iated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In addition, I am honorary visiting professor at the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technologies. This is all thanks to my knowledge of ultrasound and the use of catheters in cardiovascular diseases. The Chinese are extremely interested in what we do here. They are interested in creating technology to solve health problems, along the same lines as the Medical Delta alliance. To achieve this they are focusing on high-tech, low cost healthcare. Aging is a major problem in China. Even more so than here. And the introduction of a Western diet has greatly increased the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases.’

‘The market for catheters is extremely interesting for them. The global turnover is currently approximately E 9 billion per year, with an annual growth rate of 8%! The savings that can be achieved by using catheters are truly gigantic. I once made a calculation: open heart surgery costs about E 13,000 while treatment using a catheter would cost E 7,000. In the first case, patients are hospitalized for two weeks. While if a catheter is used, patients can often go home the same day. After catheter treatment patients can go back to work within two and a half weeks while after open heart surgery it can take months before patients can actively participate in society. The latter is particularly important. People should not be bedridden or have to stay indoors; they must remain active.’

Aging is not a disease

‘This is why, as a country, we have a great need for the Medi- cal Delta alliance. The population of the Netherlands is aging, and the current medical system can- not cope. The healthcare system must change radically. Radical innovation will require social and technical solutions and these are feasible. We must encourage people to take the responsibility for aging into their own hands. Aging is not a disease but should be experienced as being pleas- ant, although it may cause some discomfort. This is something you can learn to live with thanks to technical solutions.’

More emphasis on prevention, early diagnosis and early treatment

‘What is most important is that people remain active in society for as long as possible – and stay out of hospital. This means more emphasis on prevention, early diagnosis and early treatment. We must diagnose before symp- toms appear. And if treatment is necessary, it should be as minimally invasive as possible. Surgery must be replaced by laparoscopic keyhole surgery, or the use of catheters, so that damage to patients is reduced to a minimum, hospital stays are as short as possible and patients recover quickly enabling them to fully participate in society again.’