Gerwin J. Puppels was born March 25, 1962, in Almelo, Netherlands. He attended the University of Twente in the Netherlands, where he earned his doctorate degree in applied physics. During his post-doctoral work at the university from 1991–1994, he began a small research group focused on Raman spectroscopic technology development and applications.
In 1994, Puppels became associate professor at the Erasmus MC University Medical Center (EMC) Rotterdam. “I started a research group to explore clinical applications of Raman spectroscopy, again with technology development and applications development going hand-in-hand; one pushing the other and the other way around,” said Puppels.
In 2001, his work came to the attention of the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. “From 1997 to 2002 my ten- to twelve-person research group at EMC had a close collaboration with the research group of Gerald Lucassen, PhD, at Philips Research Labs, looking for new techniques and methods to analyze and characterize skin, with my group focusing on development of in vivo diagnostic methods based on Raman spectroscopy,” added Puppels.
The results of this work were published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology (JID), among other scientific journals. Puppels discovered that his research led to the production of molecular concentration profiles as a function of distance to the skin surface. “In these publications we showed that detailed information about skin composition could be obtained using confocal Raman microspectroscopy. The combination of information about actual molecular composition obtained from the Raman spectra and the spatial resolution with which these spectra could be obtained enabled us to produce molecular concentration profiles as a function of distance to the skin surface,” said Puppels.
The Raman spectroscopy research paved the way for applications such as skin characterization/skin typing and monitoring penetration and effects of topically applied compounds, according to Puppels, which drew the attention of the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.
William Riggs, Gerwin Puppels and Eric Marple founded River Diagnostics BV, located in Rotterdam, in 2002. Cofounder Riggs, CEO of the company until 2005, said, “Puppels designed a new, highly-sensitive instrument that could perform cosmetic efficacy testing as well as answer basic research questions regarding the skin.” Riggs and Puppels founded the company, according to Riggs, to bring the instrument out of the laboratory.
Puppels said that once the cosmetic industry showed interest, “the thing to do then was to turn a laboratory technique that worked great in the hands of experts into an easy-to-use workhorse that required a minimum of training and maintenance and enabled [researchers] to carry out panel studies efficiently.”
The Model 3510 Skin Composition Analyzer met these goals so well, according to Puppels, that he and Riggs created another problem. Puppels described the problem as, “How to efficiently organize and analyze the vast amount of data generated in a single study.” He later clarified, “In order to tackle this problem we are developing a data analysis toolbox—SkinTools—that will be released soon.”
Johan Wiechers, principal scientist and skin care R&D manager for Uniqema, finds the work of Puppels to be revolutionary. “What was so dramatically good about the work of [Puppels] and is that he developed something that, until that moment, was not possible. Within a year after the publication of their article in JID, they were working with every big company in the cosmetic industry, as our colleagues immediately understood the importance of what they did—measuring real water, not a derived parameter, in real skin in vivo, and not a general number but as a function of depth,” said Wiechers.
Riggs returned to his home in the United States in 2005. At that time, Puppels, formerly the chief technology officer, assumed the role of CEO of River Diagnostics, a position which he now holds. He reportedly continues to work with the EMC.