European Union funding aids innovative medical IT

August 29, 2003

The maxim "united we stand, divided we fall" is holding true for a group of medical IT researchers. Members of a Europe-wide consortium who joined together in a single bid for European Union R&D funding are now seeing their theoretical concepts realized

The maxim "united we stand, divided we fall" is holding true for a group of medical IT researchers. Members of a Europe-wide consortium who joined together in a single bid for European Union R&D funding are now seeing their theoretical concepts realized as demonstrable clinical systems.

The consortium, known as EUTIST-M, consists of 39 European companies, universities, and technology centers. It is currently funded under the European Commission's so-called fifth framework program, a scheme designed to promote excellence in European R&D by facilitating cross-border collaboration and a pooling of intellectual resources.

EUTIST-M started three years ago as a collection of six medical IT projects, according to Dr. Ignacio Blanquer, an associate professor at the Polytechnic University of Valencia in Spain and a key player in the consortium. The cluster gradually expanded to cover 11 separate R&D ventures, with applications spanning radiology, surgery, orthopedics, oncology, dermatology, audiology, and intensive care medicine. Consortium members meet every six months for a roundtable discussion, and share a single Web site (www.medicaltech.org) to publicize their work.

The group approach has many advantages for researchers making the step from idea to prototype product, Blanquer said. The twice-yearly meetings provide a valuable forum for different project teams to exchange useful information, while the overall costs of setting up clinical demonstrations and marketing successful systems are reduced.

"Some of the partners didn't feel comfortable at first with the idea of widespread dissemination of what we are doing, but this publicity is an important aspect," he said.

Three of the 11 prototypes developed involve the management or manipulation of medical images. Project VISU uses 3D CT image data and a haptic device to help predict the outcome of craniofacial surgery. Virtual surgery can be performed in about 15 minutes on a standard PC, allowing trainees to practice new techniques and experienced consultants to experiment with alternative approaches.

Project DISMEDI describes a low-cost tool for 3D segmentation and 3D or multiplanar projection, navigation, and measurement during radiological diagnosis. Project CREAM, on the other hand, outlines a system for digitizing, DICOM-encoding, and storing imaging movies generated on analog angiography and echocardiography equipment.

Researchers involved with the consortium must now make plans to stand on their own two feet. Funding for EUTIST-M will come to an end in six months, and changes to the EU's funding program mean that the consortia will no longer be eligible for financial support.

"We are in the process of consolidating our database of contacts," Blanquer said. "We will make visits to different contacts and arrange small demonstrations of the prototypes specifically for each one."