Gijs Wuite: “Starting a company is a great way for a scientist to make an impact”

To elucidate the fundamental question of “What is life?”, researchers are attempting to assemble synthetic cells from scratch. Many technologies are being developed along the way and promise both scientific and societal benefits.

A recent example is the Acoustophoresis method, created by Gijs Wuite, professor of physics of life processes at the VU University in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Wuite recently licensed it to LUMICKS, a company he co-founded, for commercialization. We asked him about potential applications and his advice to boost the commercialization of new technologies.

Image credit: Anne Reitsma

Set up in 2001 in Amsterdam, Gijs Wuite‘s lab focuses on developing tools that provide quantitative data to study biological questions. “I develop technologies to help biology become a predictable science,” he explained.

An ultrasound method to study the interior of artificial cells

Over time, the biological phenomena he studies have become more complex. For the BaSyC (‘Build a Synthetic Cell’) program, he has just developed a new method, Quantitative Acoustophoresis, which makes it possible to study the physical properties of artificial cells using sound waves.

“Building from the bottom up, that is, from scratch, is a powerful way to generate a deep understanding of life processes. To do this, it is important to know whether the components we place inside cell-like systems are actually functional and doing what they are supposed to do. The ultrasound method we have devised measures the physical properties of the systems and allows us to know what is going on inside,” he said.

The method can measure the elasticity, stiffness, and density of cells, whether they are artificial or not. As is often the case, the method could be used for broader applications, such as cancer screening. “The stiffness of cancer cells differs from that of normal cells. They are softer. With the Acoustophoresis method, we can easily measure whether a cell is good or bad.”

Quantitative Acoustophoresis. Image credit: Anne Reitsma

A company co-founded in 2014 that commercializes his inventions

Gijs Wuite patented the invention and licensed it to LUMICKS. Co-founded by Wuite in 2014, the company has already commercialized several of its inventions. “In 2014, it was the right time to create a LUMIKCS. We had a good, easy-to-use product, the right people and the local ecosystem to support us. My university was very open to me starting a company and I received grants from the European Union.” 

For Wuite, the commercialization of science benefits both society and science. “There are now over 100 labs using my technology and commercialization has amplified the reach of my ideas. Starting a company is a great way for a scientist to make an impact.”

A call for more patent training for researchers

However, Wuite regrets the lack of knowledge about patents within its community and would like to see more training offered to researchers. “When I filed my first patent, I had no idea how it actually worked. Patents are fascinating and I have learned a lot about them. What they are used for, how they are used, and what science is patentable. We need to make more people aware of patents, they are a first step in reaching commercialization and making an impact on science.”

Do you know of any technologies developed by synthetic cell researchers that have recently been commercialized? Contact us