Dresden aims to become world leader with novel cyber medicine

Once again there is foundation money: 20 million euros for digital health. The Else Kröner Fresenius Center at TU Dresden is all about data and technology. This ranges from AI in surgery to miniature medical technology.

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Die Elektronik in der Medizintechnik ist verglichen mit der Technik in einem Handy steinalt.
Electronics in medical technology are as old as the hills compared to the technology in a cell phone. Researchers in Dresden now want to change that. © 123rf

From Stephan Schön

Dresden. Dresden is being expanded into a top center for digital health. The Else Kröner Fresenius Center (EKFZ) at the TU University Hospital receives another 20 million euros from the foundation of the same name.

Out of 26 applicants, only Dresden was able to prevail at that time and received this center and the first millions in 2019. 200 to 250 digital physicians are to conduct research here in the planned new building: Doctors, computer scientists, physicists, technicians and engineers. The rector at the time, Hans Müller Steinhagen, named the visionary goal: "We want to be at the forefront of the world in the development of cyber medicine."

After five years and the peer review, this seems feasible. The foundation's funding, which runs into the millions, will now continue for another five years. After that, the EKFZ will be an integral part of the TU Dresden. "We want to fully exploit the potential of digitization in medicine in order to significantly and sustainably improve healthcare, medical research and clinical practice," announces Professor of Medicine Jochen Hampe, spokesman for the EKFZ, for the next few years.

Test run for AI in the operating room - without patients. Help is displayed on the screen to support the surgeons. Fiona Kolbinger and Sebastian Bodenstedt from TU Dresden led this development.© Uniklinikum Dresden/Kirsten Lassig

Artificial intelligence methods are already being developed at the EKFZ that will assist surgeons during operations in a few years' time. A digital assistance system could help avoid surgical errors in the future. Dresden-based physicians and computer scientists have enabled an artificial intelligence to provide surgeons with important information about tissues and organs in conjunction with video images during minimally invasive surgery. "Our study is one of the first to show in a direct comparison between humans and machines that intelligent assistance systems can recognize anatomical features at a clinically relevant level," project leader Fiona Kolbinger told the SZ in late August.

In Dresden, chips and sensors are being designed for a new kind of medical technology. The kind that have safety standards and data protection that do not exist anywhere today. Medical devices that today can only be found in special clinics are to become small, mobile, individually usable and inexpensive. The Free State of Bavaria and the federal government provide tens of millions of euros for such research in addition to the foundation's funding.

Ancient electronics in medical technology becomes a problem

The biggest problem in medical technology is outdated electronics. Compared with the latest cell phones, for example, medical electronics are ten to twenty years behind in terms of technological level. "In principle, what we find there is always ancient technology," Gerhard Fettweis told the SZ at the start of the project by Semeco in May. Fettweis is not a doctor or a physician, he is an electrical engineering professor and otherwise actually develops the mobile communications technology of the future. Because every new chip needs years of approval and every new sensor needs several medical studies. "Before the approval is there, the chips won't even exist." By then, the generations after next will already be in production. Many technically useful innovations therefore arrive very late or not at all in medical technology.

Professor of Medicine Jochen Hampe from the TU Dresden heads the Research Center for Digital Health.© SMWA/Bonss

"Instead of kits the size of a shoebox, everything is to be shrunk down to a chip," announced Jochen Hampe six months ago. At that time, the assessment and further funding from the EKFZ were still pending. Hampe was sure that this would come. And now it is here. Semeco, one of the major projects at the EKFZ, will make medical devices much more mobile, precise and affordable. In concrete terms, completely new, miniaturized implants, sensors for analysis and evaluation, control and communication with other devices would be conceivable - "everything combined in one piece of silicon," enthuses Professor of Medicine Hampe. The first projects have already begun.

Much more will be added in the coming years. Three professors have already been appointed and are setting up new research groups. Two more will be added in 2024.

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