Biomedical Imaging & Informatics – European Research and Training Initiative

PART 2 (2016):

BERTI, our common “Biomedical Imaging & Informatics – European Research and Training Initiative” is now well in its second year and in full swing – so it is worth to give an update on what has happened so far and what is still to come in the remaining year.

But maybe some background first: BERTI is a program funded by the European Union (EU) for early stage researchers. BERTI entails them with the research opportunities necessary to become an independent researcher and to obtain their PhD in an interdisciplinary and intersectoral setting. But it is more than that: BERTI also provides a broad and profound education, to name a few: SixSigma/Triz, good scientific practice, medical ethics, teaching and presentation skills, IP and licensing. As a result, during their 3 years, the early stage researchers will complete a PhD in biomedical imaging and will at the same time have acquired adjacent skills and competencies.

So what has happened so far: 14 young researchers (36% female, 64% male) from all over the world (Americas: 1; Europe: 5; Asia: 7) were recruited into the program and started their research on biomedical imaging. Last year in summer, BERTI also passed its mid-term evaluation by the EU with a great success – we were officially flagged a success story by the EU. Now that the second year is almost completed, most researchers have returned from their secondments abroad. They have spent between 2 and 5 months at another academic laboratory, applying their developments and enriching their experiences.

It was just last week, that all of us reconvened at the beautiful lake Chiemsee to meet for the second summer school. This time, the summer school had its focus on development, both project and personal development. So we went through an in-depth review of each of the individual projects. And it became very obvious that it is really the combination of highly renowned academic partner labs, the industrial research environment here at the GE Global Research Centre Europe but also the direct link to the end customer (= the patient), which stimulates research and the creation of new knowledge. At the same time, it is obviously also quite challenging for the young researchers to navigate through their projects, with all the different parties, interests and locations involved. They are working on real-life problems, which accounts to a large extent for the complexity required to solve them successfully.

What I found quite surprising is the creativity expressed by the young researchers, seeing how the projects evolved in time. It is almost like gardening, you set the ground and plant the seed of an idea and topic , and then it is about the individual to develop it further, to grow it with his/her own handwriting, which results in sometimes truly innovative approaches to solve a long-known problem.

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PART 1 (2014): 

On a foggy Sunday in early 2014, upon seeing a good number of local and international academic partners filling up the meeting room, it suddenly hit me: “BERTI has come alive!”

BERTI, which stands for “Biomedical Imaging & Informatics – European Research and Training Initiative,” is a European Union (EU) funded program that will enable young researchers to broaden their scientific horizons. It is modeled on collaborative innovation, which mirrors the network of academic institutions that are at the core of healthcare activities within GE’s European Research Centre.

The program consists of six work packages focusing on: Advanced MR Neuroimaging, Cardiac MR Imaging, MR Thermometry, Phase-contrast XRay, Optoacoustic Imaging, and Healthcare Robotics. The goal is to engage and team up cross-disciplinary researchers at a time early in their careers when they don’t typically work with each other. In each work package, a minimum of two early stage researchers will team up to tackle different aspects of a larger research question.

BERTI-Kick-Off_550x

Bringing it all together
It all started in 2011 with an initial discussion with the Technical University of Munich (TUM). We realized that the intersection of our various disciplines, such as physics, informatics, medicine and other related fields, can result in rich research in our common fields of biomedical imaging and informatics. We also realized that when our diverse disciplines get together, it results in some pretty animated research discussions. However, for us to be able to understand each other and the research problems we both face, we recognized that we needed to speak the “same language,” which requires scientific insight into one’s adjacent disciplines. While experienced researchers have that capability, researchers in the early stages of their education do not, as their education is “silo’d” by discipline and opportunities to learn across disciplines is not readily available.

We wanted to change this and knew that the best route would be through the EU funding program FP7.

The 7th Framework Program (FP7) was the main R&D funding program of the European Commission. FP7 targets collaborative research in the European Union and encourages partnerships with universities. The €50,5 billion budget was allocated to a wide variety of research areas, such as renewable energy, transportation and healthcare. The program ran from 2007-2013 and has funded projects with ending dates through 2017. FP7’s successor program, Horizon 2020, has an even larger budget of € 80 billion and will run from 2014-2020.

From the ground up
In November 2011 our TUM colleagues Ursula Mühle, Katharina Lang and myself started sketching what a potential application to the EU funding program FP7 could look like.

We collected scientific ideas, developed a theme and concept, assembled partners, discussed projects, designed trainings, created a name… Hundreds of emails, several kilos of paper and many meetings later, we were delighted to finally submit the BERTI application at the end Jan 2012. Eight weeks of intensive work and then we had to wait…Early May 2012 the EU responded that despite a very good ranking our project ended just below the threshold … what a disappointment! It took us until August 2012 to decide to go for a second trial! To make a really long story short: we refined, rephrased and redrafted the application into BERTI version 2, taking into account the evaluation comments. In November 2012, we submitted once more and again had to wait. To our delight the European Commission responded in March 2013 – positively!!!

Since then, Petra Dorfner from TUM has undertaken much of the work from an administrative and organizational standpoint. And now, it gives me great pleasure to tell you that we have kicked off BERTI. We’ll get the science started, we are currently recruiting 14 doctoral candidates who will have access to multi-disciplinary training and I am certain we will all learn from this!

If you like to know more about BERTI, please find it on www.berti.tum.de.


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