Prof. Dr. Toralf Kirsten will be appointed to the new professorship for Medical Data Science jointly established by the Medical Faculty of the University of Leipzig and the University Hospital Leipzig (UKL) on August 1st, 2021. The computer scientist will also take over the management of the newly created Medical Data Science department at the UKL. The appointment of the professorship is another important step in the implementation of the goals of the nationwide Medical Informatics Initiative (MII), in which the UKL and the University of Leipzig have been involved with the SMITH consortium since 2018.
Digitalization in medicine is a current buzzword that should be provided with concrete content and applications as soon as possible. The professorships for medical informatics, which are planned at several locations in Germany, are going to contribute to this goal. In Leipzig, Prof. Toralf Kirsten is now taking on this task and thus begins work in this exciting and promising field. The 49-year-old computer scientist can seamlessly build on his previous work, which has connected him since 2018 with the SMITH-project, the Leipzig-based part of the nationwide medical informatics initiative. Bioinformatics and the application of database systems in the life sciences have been the focus of his scientific work for almost 20 years. After positions at the HTWK Leipzig, the Center for Bioinformatics of the University of Leipzig, the University of Telecommunications in the trade fair city and most recently the Mittweida University of Applied Sciences, this now leads him to the Leipzig University Medical Center.
“In medicine, a lot of data from the healthcare routine is collected every day. At a university hospital such as the UKL, a large number of laboratory examinations or diagnostic imaging examinations are carried out with MRI or CT scans, in patients with very different diseases,” says Prof. Kirsten, describing his new area of responsibility. “However, this data is currently not usable for research projects. The aim of our work is to prepare the data in such a way that scientists can obtain important information for diagnostics and treatment.” So far, individual very specific questions have been researched in medicine. For this purpose, the data required for those studies are identified in advance and collected by examining certain patient groups.
In the future, thanks to the work of Prof. Kirsten and his colleagues, a kind of data pool with all available information could be created here, from which all existing data on a specific question can then be retrieved quickly. “In this way, correlations could be identified more quickly and easily and open questions answered,” Prof. Kirsten is convinced.
When using patient data, the high requirements of data protection in the healthcare sector must be observed. Anonymity must be maintained and the data must not leave the place where they were collected for treatment purposes. “These are demanding requirements that the data integration centers, also here at the UKL, are working on implementing,” says Kirsten. The task of his department is now to analyze this data merged in this way. To this end, suitable methods must first be developed and an infrastructure created that enables the collection and evaluation not only of the people of Leipzig, but ultimately of all data nationwide. To achieve this, Prof. Kisten and his colleagues from the SMITH consortium are working together with all other locations of the Medical Informatics Initiative. A current project is the “Personal Health Train” – a procedure that is intended to enable a phased evaluation of large amounts of data on site by carrying out an interim evaluation at the various centers, the results of which are then transported to the next data storage location. “In this way, the individual data of the patients do not leave the centers where they are collected and needed for treatment, but can be evaluated and processed in pseudonymized form,” explains Prof. Kirsten. Specifically, these are, for example, questions about the early detection of glaucoma and other eye diseases or the pattern recognition of rare leukodystrophies, which can thus be detected more quickly and treated better.
In order to anchor such methods even more in medicine in the future, Leipzig University is offering the Master’s program in Medical Data Science from the winter semester, in which Prof. Kirsten is also involved. Here, scientists, but also doctors, are to be trained as experts for data collection and evaluation in order to be able to further advance the digitization of medicine for the benefit of patients.
“I am very much looking forward to my new task in this highly exciting field and hope for many network projects and application questions,” says Prof. Toralf Kirsten with a view to the development work that lies ahead of him. “Thanks to many existing projects, Leipzig has a very good basis for this, on which we will now build intensively.”
The aim of the Medical Informatics Initiative (MII) is to improve research opportunities and patient care through innovative IT solutions. These are intended to enable the exchange and use of data from health care, clinical and biomedical research across the boundaries of institutions and locations. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding MII with over 160 million euros until 2021. In the four consortia DIFUTURE, HiGHmed, MIRACUM and SMITH, all institutions of the University Medical Center in Germany work together with research institutions, companies, health insurance companies and patient representatives at over 30 locations to develop the framework conditions so that findings from research can reach the patient directly. Data protection and data security have the highest priority.
The Smart Medical Information Technology for Healthcare (SMITH) consortium brings together nine university hospitals and nine other partners from research and industry. SMITH will be funded by the BMBF from 2018 to 2021 with a total funding volume of approx. 45 million.
Source: Press release University Hospital Leipzig of 04.08.2021