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Tommy Heck - the architect of digital twins for advanced therapy bioprocessing

Tommy Heck, the Antleron digital twin wizard from the Netherlands, works hard every day to enable in silico bioprocess modeling and optimization. “Moving more bioprocess development steps to in silico reduces the time and cost of experiments, as you already start with pre-optimized designs,” Tommy explains.

Driven by curiosity

Tommy is a biomedical engineering graduate of TU Eindhoven. After having developed specific interests in technical subjects through high school, he decided to pursue a career in engineering. According to Tommy, biomedical engineering offered the most interesting range of possible application-focused fields to develop further into. “My drive to figure out how everything in the human body works, pushed me towards biomedical engineering,” Tommy concludes.

During his university education and PhD, Tommy’s work focused on modeling phenomena primarily on the cellular level. His PhD topic, Computational Modeling of Protrusion-Based 3D Cell Migration through a Degradable Viscoelastic Extracellular Matrix describes cell migration in a 3D environment, taking into account the underlying (sub)cellular mechanisms and the mechanical properties of the surrounding extracellular matrix. To some extent, this builds on his Master thesis research, which centered around mechanically regulated cell-induced collagen remodeling.

Developing the digital twin vision

Tommy joined Antleron right after his PhD. Having satisfied his academic curiosity and need for more individually led projects, he took the step into the industry by joining Antleron. “Instead of following a typical academic path, I was looking for companies which combine a broad range of activities.” The final trigger to pursue a position at Antleron was the applied biomedical research activity that is present there.

Tommy stands in front of a great task, developing Antleron’s digital capabilities through the use of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and other modeling tools. His work and expertise, and the custom bioprocess solutions he develops, help us understand the characteristics of bioreactor and microfluidic chip designs, even before any physical prototypes are manufactured. In addition, he is tasked with building a process economics tool which is employed in our projects to understand the cost structure and scalability considerations. “The cost and scalability are important aspects to take into consideration, particularly when optimizing complex cell-based processes,” Tommy explains. “It was outside of my core expertise, but I see it more as a logical, mathematical riddle to understand and solve.”

When executing his work, Tommy interacts with most of the team on a regular basis. There is a strong link to 3D printing and experimental testing performed in the biolab, so regular communication is required. Tommy is also heavily involved in collaborations with our partners ANSYS and Novasign, with whom we work together to further develop our digital twin vision.

Taking a break from the computer

In his free time, Tommy is an avid follower of various sports, especially football, cycling, and Formula 1. Despite the heavy involvement of CFD simulation in the development of F1 race cars, this aspect is not what attracted him to the racing and cycling sports. “My hobbies allow me to relax and take my mind off work, so I do not automatically make the connection to simulations.” As holiday destinations, Tommy prefers hiking in nature, rather than city trips.