Report from ECR: Support grows for European biomedical research initiative

March 8, 2005

Although fundamental research in biomedical imaging remains a relatively obscure field, some observers at the European Congress of Radiology believe the future of radiology depends largely on developments in this area.

Although fundamental research in biomedical imaging remains a relatively obscure field, some observers at the European Congress of Radiology believe the future of radiology depends largely on developments in this area.

"There are huge laboratories involved in basic fundamental biomedical imaging research, and they do not belong to radiology," said Prof. Gabriel Krestin, chair of the committee on research at the European Association of Radiology (EAR). "We are pushing the frontiers of our profession. But these are exciting frontiers, not only for radiologists but for other disciplines. The question is, What gives radiology the right to claim these exciting borderline frontiers?"

Radiologists can claim these areas only if they become more closely involved in discovery and research and development. They should be at the gateposts in science as well as in patient care, according to Krestin.

The EAR is in the process of creating a European Infrastructure for Biomedical Imaging Research (EIBIR), which will coordinate a network of existing fundamental research laboratories and clinical research departments. This could eventually evolve into a physical entity like the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering in the U.S.

At Sunday's joint ECR/EAR session, attendees heard from representatives of European government, industry, basic science, and radiology leadership about the importance of developing fundamental research. Speakers included Hervé Pero, head of a European Commission research unit, who discussed new funding for biomedical imaging research, and Prof. Erich Reinhardt, president and CEO of Siemens Medical Solutions.

Fundamental research lies at the heart of the radiology, spurring developments in molecular imaging, optical imaging, PET/CT, and functional MRI, among other applications. Yet most of the efforts in the field are undertaken by other professionals, typically physicists, chemists, biologists, and neuroscientists.

The EAR has conducted a survey of more than 400 institutions, including fundamental research laboratories, academic departments involved in research, and professional societies. The responses will provide an overview of biomedical imaging research resources across Europe, from which the EAR will select the top-ranked institutions to form the core of the EIBIR in initial development stages.

The next step is to apply for public funding, which seems promising. The European Commission is encouraging the establishment of a research infrastructure and places a high priority on biomedical imaging. The commission's plans include development of "technology platforms" to encourage innovation in a range of research areas. These platforms require close cooperation between academia, industry, and national governments

Industry is interested in partnering with clinicians and scientists in the earliest phases of R&D activities, Reinhardt said. He cites the Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise initiative as a model for cooperation.

"Within the IHE, various companies are working together to ensure the interoperability of their IT systems. This shows that industry can work together in a win-win situation," he said.

Cooperation in research is more challenging, but not impossible.

"To improve healthcare efficiency, close cooperation among all healthcare participants is necessary. In the future we will see more cross-functional projects involving different institutions from different countries as well as different companies," Reinhardt said.