Major German project addresses challenges of digitizing patient data

Six of Germany's Helmholtz centers are cooperating to ensure patient privacy is protected while allowing science to use patient data to advance innovative medicine. They have set up the Helmholtz Medical Security, Privacy, and AI Research Center (HMSP) to pursue this aim.

Stethoscope and tablet ; Source: + PeopleImages
© + PeopleImages

The Helmholtz Center for Information Security (CISPA), the German Center for Neurodegenerative Disease (DZNE), the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), the German Research Center for Environmental Health (HMGU), the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research (HZI), and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) are implementing the interdisciplinary work of the HMSP. The new center brings together leading experts from IT-security, privacy, artificial intelligence (AI)-machine learning, and medical professionals to allow for secure and privacy-preserving processing of medical data using technologies of the future.

HMSP spokesman Michael Backes, founding director of CISPA, explained, "The gathering, analysis, and further development of enormous banks of medical data enable researchers to gain unparalleled insights and develop new approaches. Doing this in a trustworthy, secure, and efficient manner demands interdisciplinary, top-level research." Backes continued that CISPA has already developed a process that in future will among other things make possible efficient analysis and processing of encoded patient data.

The Helmholtz Association of Research Centers is dedicated to "research for grand challenges." Set up in 1995 to consolidate the country's existing, internationally-known research centers, Germany's Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) provides around 90 percent of the funding for its work. Helmholtz is also a key feature of the unique environment for innovation in Germany because it functions as an interface between basic science and industry.

The initiative to set up HMSP is in part a response to rapid advances in AI and "big data" and their implications for personalized medicine, for which there is a rapidly growing market. The center's work will therefore have an impact on Germany's healthcare industry as well.

HEALTH MADE IN GERMANY's profile of the digital health sector underscores and analyzes this. For example, the country's market for mobile health technologies was EUR 392 in 2017, with that sum expected to almost double by 2020.