Biomedical research: crossing discipline borders

Biomedical research crosses borders of disciplines to help shape new imaging approaches, as scientists from Technical University of Munich explain

Roughly 6 years ago, we, a couple of researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Germany, envisioned a new form of doctoral training together with our partner in industry (GE Global Research). We saw the still prevalent silo approach of education and at times the lack of understanding amongst the different specialisms and sectors.

Bridging over these borders became our common motivator. Our first step was to analyse the status quo and define the room for improvement. We wanted to attract young talent to come and research in Europe. Our high set aim was to nurture and develop a new generation of early stage researchers (ESRs) by enabling them to:

  • Become excellent researchers in an interdisciplinary setting, perform cutting edge science, acquire T-shaped education (combining depth in one specialisation with the skill to collaborate across disciplines)1, 2
  • Increase awareness as responsible leaders by applying ethics in good scientific practice and clinical studies, reflect critically, be aware of diversity and respect other research fields, communicate with public & peers, bridge cultural differences
  • Grow their scientific skills as knowledge distributors, work with others and expand their own potential as well as enable others to use their potential by supervising master’s students
  • Become creative thinkers and develop their own ideas, think outside the box
  • Stay focused as entrepreneurs, be realistic in planning be pragmatic
  • Progress in self-management by utilising the provided broad toolkit for personal effectiveness, time management and prioritisation.

Adopting the approach of design thinking, which focuses on the solution itself and is human-centred, seemed to be the way to tackle the task. So, who did we see as our target group? Naturally, there were many. Our early stage researchers, their potential future employers and collaborators in academia and industry unless they would found their own start-ups, in the biomedical research context also patients and physicians, and the public that should benefit from the research and the training of the young BERTI ESRs.

Keeping this in mind, together with our 19 partners from 8 countries, we set out and created a unique and encompassing research and training schedule. Adapting it to changing needs was a challenge, but due to the immense flexibility of our training partners, we managed it very well.

Which scientific and socioeconomic challenges did we set out to master?

Our topics circle around the interdisciplinary and intersectoral topic of biomedical research. We research Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), with special focus on neuro, cardio and thermometry (cancer treatment), x-ray tensor tomography, optoacoustic imaging, and have some research aspects in the field of healthcare robotics. BERTI covers the whole aspects from very established techniques with high TRL levels3 to ground breaking new imaging approaches.

Starting with the established MRI, the new aspects we have been working on may be subsumed under “MR Plug and Play”, this implies reducing the required time to take an MR Image, increasing the patient comfort by reducing the noise, and improving the information content by making the MRI quantitative. For a physician, these developments translate into getting their images faster and with significantly increased information, content, and quality, the patient does not have to stay in the MRI ‘tube’ for as long and for the hospital that it can allow for scanning of more people in a given time frame. Last but not least costs can be saved. Further, we work on making the MRI silent. Meaning that more patient groups, e.g. children or people suffering from neurological disorders, can benefit from the possibilities MRI offers. This philosophy has also been adapted for cardiac MR, where we scan the moving organ without any external intervention, focussing on detection of the motion of the heart muscle itself but also of the aortic blood flow.

Being an inherently versatile imaging method, MRI can also be combined with heating devices, which come into play for tumour treatment. To this end, “thermometry”, which is the term for controlled heating of cancer tissue under constant MR-based temperature control, has been a further aspect of the research within BERTI, which has the potential of directly leading to improved outcomes of chemotherapy at reduced patient discomfort.

Multispectral Optoacoustic Tomography (MSOT) is a novel imaging methodology, which resolves optical contrast deep inside tissues at ultrasound re­solution, thus offering high-resolution optical imaging and true molecular information. To obtain this molecular information, the quantification of the optoacoustic signals is important in characterising tissue chromophores or administered agents and/or nano-particles. With this novel technology, in vivo information, such as tissue oxygenation levels may be obtained in real time, which opens a direct window into tumour metabolisms, vital and essential information for physicians, pharmaceutical industry and patients.

Another innovative imaging modality, X-ray Tensor Tomography (XTT) allows unparalleled insights into tissue orientation and structures that are typically below the spatial resolution of a conventional imaging system. The structure orientation is deduced indirectly by reconstructing the scattering profile at every location within the measured sample. In biological and clinical applications, this technique has proven to give unique contrast also in soft tissue, like the human breast, enabling to enhance the diagnostic information of X-ray mammography, for instance for detection of breast cancer, significantly.

Healthcare robotics such as double-arm manipulator systems for transurethral resection for urinary bladder tumours represented a further focus research area of BERTI. For complicated and delicate anatomical structures like the urinary system, visualisation and the ability to reach obstructed areas is key.

Has BERTI been successful?

The achieved scientific outcomes are outstanding and would not have been possible in a different setting. The exchange across borders was essential. Not only did we work with partners from 8 countries, but also our 14 young talents (40% female) came from 9 different nations. Of the 3 BERTI researchers who have already completed the programme, all were recruited instantly: one for academia at Kings College London, UK, one for a medium size, and, one for a globally operating company based in Germany.

 

1 B Allenby. Rethinking engineering education, Proc Sustainable Systems and Technology, 2011

2 N Donofrio. C Sanchez, J Spohrer. Collaborative innovation and service systems. Holistic Engineering Education, 243-269. Springer New York, 2010

3 The European Commission. Horizon 2020: Work Programme 2016-2017, Annexe G: Technology readiness levels (TRL)

 

Dr. Andrea Glogger

Executive Programme Manager

andrea.glogger@tum.de

 

PD Dr. Marion I. Menzel

Senior Scientist

marion.menzel@tum.de

menzel@ge.com

 

Technical University of Munich (TUM) and GE Global Research

Tel: +49 89 289 10808

www.berti.tum.de

Please note: this is a commercial profile

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