European IST 2001 Oscars awarded to telemedicine, surgery simulation and e-business

Nice 07 November 2000During the recent IST 2000 event, the annual Information Society Technologies Conference, three grand prize winners were selected from over 200 contestants from 26 countries around Europe to receive the prestigious European IST Prize trophy. Fraunhofer's TeleInViVo system, XiTact's Virtual Patient simulator, and MINE-it's e-commerce software, Easyminer each were awarded 200.000 Euro. The Oscars of Information Technology are organised by Euro-CASE, the European Council of Applied Sciences and Engineering, to honour pioneering, innovative IT developments and applications. The IST prize, which is sponsored and supported by the European Commission, was awarded for the sixth time.

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TeleInViVo, a project developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics in Germany in collaboration with Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and French partners, is a transportable, 3D Ultrasound Telemedical Workstation. With TeleInViVo, a physician can collect the three-dimensional ultrasound data of a patient. Through the built-in flexible telecommunication channel, the 3D data can be transferred to a remote expert situated virtually anywhere in the world. It will be of particular use in isolated areas such as islands, rural districts and in crisis situations, since it integrates a portable PC with telecommunication capabilities with a light and robust portable 3D ultrasound station in a custom-made device. The system is inexpensive, easily transported, lightweight and non-radiating.

A TeleInViVo consultation takes place economically and self-sufficiently. A doctor can also use the equipment to scan the patient's radiology data and send it to an expert thousands of miles away. Both doctors can then view the 3D visual data, and discuss a diagnosis and possible treatment methods on-line. The integrated wavelet data compression makes a lossless compression of the record possible. This allows the visualised patient information to be transmitted quickly and easily via the Internet, ISDN, GSM, or even analogue modem or satellite. Results, pictures, and specific specialised knowledge are thus readily available to the doctor in attendance or the medical assistant. This can save lives.

"Tele-consultation with experts improves the certainty of a diagnosis. The patients are spared the often long path to a specialist. Additionally, there is a reduction in the isolation of people who, for instance, live on islands or in remote areas, and whose medical care often turns them into second-class citizens", stressed Professor Georgios Sakas from the Fraunhofer IGD, and head of the TeleInViVo project. In the future, the inhabitants of remote, sparsely populated areas or islands will no longer have to lack professional medical care. Pilot projects in the Azores and on the Canary Islands have already been very successful. In co-operation with the UNESCO, additional projects in Uganda and Kazachstan have been carried out successfully.

It makes sense to deploy the TeleInViVo system in crisis situation areas. In the meantime, hundreds of successful tele-consultations have impressively confirmed the usefulness of the system. The results have been presented and publicised at medical conferences. The Fraunhofer IGD in Darmstadt headed the TeleInViVo project. The technical design was realised in co-operation with the Zentrum für Graphische Datenverarbeitung and the Centro de Computação Gráfica (CCG) in Coimbra, Portugal; DSC Dr. Stärk Computer GmbH in Langen; and PIE Medical in Maastricht, The Netherlands. The medical validation was carried out by the Hospitais da Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal; Hospital de Ponta Delgada in the Azores, Portugal; CATAI in Spain and UNESCO in Paris, France.

Second prize winner XiTact is a Swiss-based company which has produced the Virtual Patient. This project is a virtual reality based surgery simulator with high fidelity feedback providing surgeons with a powerful training tool which can also be used for the planning of surgery. If airline pilots can use simulated flights to train for emergency situations, why not doctors? Using this technology, surgeons can train themselves to cope with emergency situations based on realistic models without endangering a patient's life. The virtual patient idea is based on a series of research projects started at the Institute of Robotic Systems (ISR) of the EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

The XiTact Virtual Patient is principally used in the field of minimal invasive surgery. The anatomical scene consists of a complete set of virtual organs, simulated on a standard PC. A powerful force feedback device provides the surgeon with a very realistic feeling of the interaction between organs and surgical instruments. Surgeons can therefore not only see, but also feel the actions they perform during a surgical procedure. In the near future, medical imaging devices can be directly used to provide the simulator with 3D organ data of a patient to be operated. This will allow the training of sophisticated procedures before an actual operation. XiTact was founded in April 2000 and has its headquarter in Morges with a branch office in Zurich. XiTact employs a highly qualified and multi-disciplinary team of currently 11 people.

MINE-it software has produced the third winning application, Easyminer which allows e-businesses to find out the behavioural patterns and click-streams of visitors to their site, thus providing them with critical marketing data. Using Easyminer e-businesses are able to measure the effect of on-line advertising, including propensity to purchase and referral effectiveness. The company is a spin out from the University of Ulster and has a multi-cultural team which comprises Irish, British, German, Indian, Spanish and Canadian nationals.

The jury of well-known European experts has set high standards for the "IT Oscars". The criteria applied for selection were technical excellence, innovative content, potential market value, capacity to generate employment and contribution towards expanding the IT understanding by societies. The three winners will be assured substantial future venture capital funding and international recognition. The awards were presented by Mr. Erkki Liikanen, the European Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society; by Jeanne Seyvet, Director-General for Industry, Information Technologies and Posts from the French Ministry of Economy, Finances and Industry; and by Sir Derek Roberts, President of the Executive Jury of the European Prize IST in a ceremony hosted by the Anglo-French presenter Alex Taylor and virtual presenter Ananova.

More details on the three Grand Prize Winners are available at the Web site of the European IST Prize. You can also find more information on TeleInViVo in the VMW May 1999 article TeleInViVo, the building of an economically viable telemedical workstation for 3D ultrasound or at the TeleInViVo Web site.


Leslie Versweyveld

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