The alliance of TU/e, WUR, UU and UMC Utrecht has awarded three 50,000-euro grants for research that shapes and facilitates the long-term partnership between the institutions. The research projects are innovative and multi-disciplinary.

The strategic alliance’s mission is to encourage collaboration across the boundaries of scientific disciplines and institutions. In so doing, the knowledge institutions create new opportunities to examine major global issues from different perspectives and to arrive at innovative solutions. The seed money fund was created to support the realization of that goal. There are three seed money calls each year, in this call 18 researchers received funding to work on three separate research projects. These are:

  • Cohesive
  • Eat, Sleep, Research, Repeat
  • Happy Thalamus

Cohesive:  Co-designing Healthy Public Spaces via Immersive Virtual Environments

By 2020, majority of the population in the Netherlands lived in the cities while about only 10% of city dwellers lived in the inner areas of large cities. Although the inner cities are engines for socio-economic, and cultural developments, they are not considered attractive and livable by all population groups such as families with young children and elderly. Moreover, large cities in the Netherlands face challenges such as housing shortage and low air quality. To respond to these challenges, city authorities aim to optimize the use of inner cities by increasing the density, where more people can work, live and recreate. This aim creates a new challenge of developing healthy dense inner cities, especially regarding the public realm. To welcome new inhabitants and visitors that come as a result of the new dwellings and offices, it is crucial to complement urban public spaces (UPS) with new qualities according to the needs of their users to support their well-being.

The main innovation of this project is the development of a novel methodology for co-designing healthy UPS especially addressing the needs of users via an IVE technology that is tailored for their use. This can be achieved only with an interdisciplinary collaboration, which in the current urban design practice and literature, is still limited. UMC will bring expertise for understanding the needs of users regarding the attributes of healthy UPS and participatory research. WUR will advise on the IVE technology and user requirements. TU/e will contribute with expertise in researching urban design scenarios by SPE (using IVE), preference measurement and analysis techniques.

Gamze Dane (TU/e), Theo Arentze (TU/e), Maryam Ghodsvali, (TU/e), Pauline van den Berg (TU/e), Edward H. Huijbens (WUR), Joske Houtkamp (WUR), Ioana Mereuta (WUR), Marielle Jambroes (UMC Utrecht)

Eat, Sleep, Research, Repeat: Predicting appetite in hospitalized preterm infants

Within this project AI tools are developed to measure appetite cues in pre-term infants. The automated, continuous measurement of such cues aids in the development of feeding schedules that better suit the infants’ demands and better preserve important sleep phases. While AI and computer vision technology is developing rapidly, remarkably little research concerns the analysis of (preterm) infants in clinical settings, caused by a lack of interdisciplinary collaboration. This proposal aims to address this deficit by bringing in experts from nutrition and health, neonatology, AI and computer vision. Joint efforts can lead to significant methodological advances in how research is conducted (short term), and how we can improve infant health (medium term). While all partners are experts in their own domains, they have all been involved in successful interdisciplinary research. The main innovation is to provide a systematic way of measuring and predicting appetite cues and to research how the timing of feeding affects the perceived level of patient discomfort.

Xi Long (TU/e), Marlou Lasschuijt (WUR), Ronald Poppe (UU), Jeroen Dudink (UMC Utrecht)

HAPPYthalamus; the app that makes your hypothalamus happy

Children with hypothalamic dysfunction, either genetic or after treatment for a brain tumor, may develop morbid obesity which severely impacts life. Due to dysfunction of the hypothalamus, children experience severe hunger (hyperphagia), develop a low resting energy expenditure and may have severe behavioural problems. Due to this combination, these children develop severe weight gain. Currently no medical treatment exists for hypothalamic obesity. It is known that distraction may aid to decrease hyperphagia symptoms, even playing with food or looking at pictures of food may “satisfy” the hypothalamic hunger feeling. Providing this distraction is however not possible for the support system of the patient (parents) as this would require 24/7 availability. We aim to develop an app to support children regain their autonomy back. The “HAPPYthalamus app” would be present 24/7, and would assist them in this with a buddy system, a distraction system and a reward system as an incentive to stop eating. To make the app fun, it can guide the child through different elements with gamification and rewards. Each day the child can choose a character (buddy), who will provide the child with challenges. The user can receive rewards based on completed challenges (as an incentive). These rewards can then again be used to unlock new characters. There can also be a community scoreboard where the child can interact and compete with peers.  This will be an interdisciplinary project, where innovative technology design expertise (TU/e) will be combined with specialized patient care (UMC Utrecht) and state-of-the-art nutritional behavioral science (WUR). Currently, there is no effective treatment for children with hypothalamic obesity. Obesity significantly reduces quality of life but also comes with greater morbidity and even mortality later in life due to cardiovascular problems. While the problem has a medical cause, it is also greatly influenced by psychological status. Therefore the expertise’s of the team will be combined to address nutrition and behavior in this disease by using gamification.

Max Birk (TU/e), Yuan Lu (TU/e), Edith Feskens (WUR), Desiree Lucassen (WUR), Ichelle van Roessel (UU/UMC Utrecht), Hanneke van Santen (UMC Utrecht)