German program to further the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in medicine

The German government is pursuing the development of medical uses of AI. At a panel discussion held in conjunction with the country's Science Year 2019 (Wissenschaftsjahr 2019) Germany's Minister of Education and Research, Anja Karliczek, and a group of experts spoke about how to lay the groundwork to optimize the use of AI in healthcare.

Medical robot robot with the first aid kit /

The panel first addressed the broad range of opportunities for applying AI in medicine. These ranged from diagnosis to analyzing and classifying enormous amounts of patient data to aid doctors and healthcare staff alike. One example they cited was a German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and Heidelberg University Hospital project that has shown AI is effective in analyzing images to identify the most deadly type of skin cancer, malignant melanoma.

A Berlin-based company, Magnosco, is already applying this concept together with dermatofluoroscopy to identify malignant skin cancer early on. Magnosco now has a certified medical device to "bring the method to doctors and patients." At the same time, the company says the technology it has developed has yet to be fully exploited.

More recently at Heidelberg University Hospital, a research group has been using AI to analyze MRI images to evaluate the efficacy of individualized treatments for brain tumors, including glioma. In conjunction with this project, doctors and scientists from Heidelberg University Hospital and the DKFZ earlier this year described the huge potential of machine learning methods in radiological diagnostics. The team has developed neuronal networks in order to assess and clinically validate the therapeutic response of brain tumors on the basis of MRI in a standardized and fully automated way.

There is nevertheless still a great deal of work to be done in many areas in order to fully tap the potential of AI in medicine. Medical data needs to be available and structured properly before it can be assessed by AI. Germany's Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has implemented a medical information technology initiative to, among other things, merge data from clinical settings and research institutions, making it usable for different types of application. The initiative includes funding programs for young researchers and ongoing projects and encompasses seven cooperative consortia so far.