‘All about babies’

| Michaela Nesvarova

Who are the scientific rock stars of the future? In the series 'Rising star' we introduce the up-and-coming researchers at the University of Twente. In this first episode, we'd like you to meet Nienke Bosschaart, whose work is 'all about babies'.

Photo by: RIKKERT HARINK

‘At first, my main driving force was the development of novel technology, but since I became a mother of two, I can truly relate to what babies and their parents go through and that is a big motivation,’ says Nienke Bosschaart, who’s received a VENI grant for her project that aims to create a noninvasive alternative to blood sampling in preterm babies.

‘Yes, I’m all about babies,’ smiles Bosschaart. ‘I really enjoy working on medical applications for mother and child care. Besides my VENI project, I’m currently working on a grant related to the monitoring of breastfeeding.’

Indeed, Bosschaart has been involved in ‘baby’ research since her PhD studies, when she started developing a noninvasive method to measure bilirubin in babies. ‘High levels of bilirubin in blood can lead to jaundice, a yellowish coloring of skin and eyes. That is usually not harmful, but with preterm and sick babies it can lead to brain damage or even death,’ explains Bosschaart. ‘To test the levels of bilirubin, blood samples need to be taken several times a day, but that is painful and stressful for the babies and can lead to serious problems, such as pain syndromes in later life.’

Needles replaced by optics

Nienke Bosschaart has therefore decided to replace needles by optics. She developed a new technique called low-coherence spectroscopy (LCS), which is able to measure bilirubin concentration in blood by, in simple words, shining light onto the skin and blood vessels. ‘My VENI is dedicated to making this new technology clinically applicable. As a first step, we are building a probe that will allow us to do measurements directly on patients,’ says Bosschaart, who is now in the early phase of the Tenure Track at the UT and hopes to become a full professor in the foreseeable future.

Besides being an accomplished academic, this rising star is also a dedicated mother of two little boys. ‘When I became pregnant, I had to redesign my way of living. I had to get used to doing my work in less hours, but it is very important for me to see my kids grow up. After all, they also inspire me to do the research I do.’ 

Our ‘Rising Star’ Nienke Bosschaart:

  • Assistant Professor Biomedical Photonic Imaging  
  • VENI grant for project ‘Blood analysis without pain in neonates’
  • Winner of 2013 Simon Stevin Gezel award
  • Winner of 2013 PhD Thesis Award from the Dutch Association for Biophysics and Biomedical Engineering
  • 2013 Tweelingprijs for best publication in pediatric research
  • Winner of 2010 Simon Stevin Leerling award
  • PhD in Biomedical Engineering and Physics at the AMC in Amsterdam
  • BSc (cum laude) and MSc degree in Biomedical Engineering at the UT

You can also find this article in our latest Science Magazine. See the magazine online or grab a printed copy.