New AI in medicine initiative launched

“Offers the opportunity to pool the region’s many strengths and give Baden-Württemberg global visibility in the field”

September 22, 2020

The University of Tübingen and the Max Planck Institutes for Biological Cybernetics and Intelligent Systems have launched a new initiative for the use of artificial intelligence in medicine and the life sciences. “The current pandemic shows that we need to become faster and more efficient in fighting global health threats. In the future, we must thus make much greater use of the potential of AI. The new initiative offers the opportunity to combine all our strengths and give Baden-Württemberg global visibility when it comes to AI applications in medicine,” said Science Minister Theresia Bauer, who welcomed the initiative for closer cooperation in the field of AI and medicine, on Tuesday.

According to Professor Bernd Engler, President of the University of Tübingen, the new initiative is open to further prominent players from universities, non-university research institutions, and companies. “In particular, we aim to cooperate closely with the University of Stuttgart, which is a world-class institution in areas such as data integration and simulation technology.” Both universities would also benefit from their membership in the Cyber Valley initiative, Europe’s largest research consortium in the field of modern AI. Other important partners are the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), the University of Heidelberg, and all medical universities in Baden-Württemberg. Companies from Baden-Württemberg’s world-renowned medical technology industry are also on board. Moreover, the research field offers enormous potential for new start-ups in the fields of diagnostics, medical technology, pharmaceuticals, and medical-related services.

Engler announced that the university and its medical faculty will, in a first step, establish four additional professorships this year in this promising field of research. They will focus on the evaluation of medical image data, sequencing, and meta data, as well as on time series or statistics using machine learning methods, among other things, thus creating new AI-supported instruments for diagnosis, therapy decisions, and the development of new drugs. “With the construction of the Cyber Valley building in the Tübingen Technology Park, which is currently in the planning stage, the Max Planck Society and the university have made provisions for the possible accommodation of the new professorships and their research groups in the second construction phase,” the President said.

The project of the university, its faculty, and the Max Planck institutes is also supported by the non-profit Hertie Foundation, among others. The foundation has set itself the goal of supporting the establishment of a further scientific lighthouse project on the use of artificial intelligence in the neurosciences in Tübingen. For 20 years, the foundation has supported  the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research in Tübingen, which is now considered a model for the transfer of findings from cutting-edge basic research to clinical application.

In addition to numerous research groups, some 15 professors in Tübingen are already researching the use of computer science methods in medicine and the life sciences. Funded by the German government, university institutions such as the “Machine Learning for Science” Cluster of Excellence and the AI Competence Center have made Tübingen a leading German location for basic research in machine learning. In addition, a growing number of local medical start-ups are part of the Cyber Valley Start-up Network.

“With our AI Health Initiative, we will continue to build on an already strong foundation,” said Michael Black, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen. “From patient care to diagnostics and individualized treatment, the possibilities for enhancing modern medicine with AI and robotics are endless. By pooling our strengths, we aim to make a decisive contribution to driving research in the field of AI and health forward.”

“Our basic research helps offer a firm foundation for the pioneering translational plans of this excellent initiative,” said Peter Dayan, Managing Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics. “For instance, work on the advanced analysis of high-resolution magnetic resonance images of the human brain offers new insights that could illuminate normal and dysfunctional neural organization. Cognitive tasks designed in consilience with artificial intelligence principles to index hidden dimensions of human decision-making are being purposed to examine the nature and course of psychiatric disease.”

The Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Professor Bernd Pichler, said that the use of modern medical diagnostic procedures generates enormous amounts of data, the evaluation of which can hardly be handled by conventional methods: “Similar challenges arise in the life sciences for a wide range of issues, from basic research to the translation of research results into clinical application, for example in personalized medicine. I am thus convinced that in the coming years and decades, groundbreaking successes in medical research and patient care will be accompanied by the use of artificial intelligence.” The analysis and intelligent interpretation of health data will not only simplify the prognosis of disease progression or improve the prevention and early detection of diseases, but also support the search for new drugs and therapeutic options.

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