Join the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) at its inaugural Digital Health Lab Day this October 3, 2019. Organized by the ZHAW Digital Health Lab, the event will feature interesting discussions by researchers and practitioners on the latest trends and solutions in digital health, exciting presentations on ZHAW research projects, as well as interactive workshops.

I recently spoke with Prof. Dr. Sven Hirsch, the Scientific Chair of the event and director of the lab, on why interdisciplinary collaboration is necessary for healthcare innovation, and what event attendees can expect at the first ZHAW Digital Health Lab Day.

Aisha Schnellmann: Why was ZHAW Digital Health Lab founded, and what is the role it intends to play in the healthcare industry in Switzerland and internationally?

Prof. Dr. Sven Hirsch: The ZHAW Digital Health Lab is a virtual ZHAW-wide competence centre established at the end of 2018. It brings together experts from the fields of technology, healthcare, applications and health economics within ZHAW. This strong interdisciplinary collaboration is what enables the ZHAW Digital Health Lab to develop patient-oriented solutions and innovation that meet the current challenges of digitisation in healthcare.

AS: Tell us more about your role at the ZHAW Digital Health Lab.

SH: We manage the lab together with our board of directors and are in the phase of ramping up our visibility. Our lab cooperates with national associations, start-ups, established companies, hospitals, insurers, health service providers, and university partners. The next step we are working on is internationalisation. We have currently established contacts in the Greater Boston Area, USA, and India to institutionalise cooperation, and are in discussion with partners in the EU.

AS: You are currently working on a project that uses sensor technology in disease characterization of intracranial aneurysms. What do you hope to achieve with this work, and what is your personal motivation behind this endeavour?  

SH: Through this research project, we intend to improve the analysis and prediction of intracranial aneurysms – little pouches in brain vessels – that could be dangerous to patients. To look for disease patterns, we have built statistical tools enhanced with machine learning to better analyse large amounts of clinical data. These insights directly benefit patients by improving the decision process of disease management.

We have always collaborated closely with clinicians to solve real-world problems with better quantitative or mental disease models. Because our purpose-driven research is highly interdisciplinary, we work with clinicians, biologists, computer scientists, and engineers to benefit patients. It is definitely rewarding to see our research saving lives and to be a part of such a diverse research community intent on improving healthcare.

image001

AS: How would you describe the digital health landscape in Switzerland? Who are the main drivers of digital health innovation in the country?

SH: Switzerland is a hub for artificial intelligence, machine learning, and health technology supported by excellent corporate and academic research. But in my opinion, the digital health landscape in Switzerland is still fragmented.

Nationally, innovation in digital health is strongly driven by the bigger universities. There is an increasing number of digital health start-ups, but these are still in their early stages. The big pharmaceutical multinational companies are primarily interested in the development of new drugs or in improving their existing products. The hospital and care provider landscape is further fragmented, with the electronic patient record still pending after years in development.

We have all the right ingredients, but nobody is putting these together to prepare a meal.

AS: What is certain though is that new technology will continue to impact healthcare delivery in significant ways. What are some examples of ongoing ZHAW projects that are leveraging on such new technology, that will be showcased on the Digital Health Lab Day?

SH: At the Digital Health Lab Day, we will discuss the latest trends and solutions in digital health such as technology-assisted movement training for people with limited functional capacity, the significance and reliability of smartphone accelerometers, and the state of AI in healthcare.

AS: New applications of health data will also be discussed at the event. What are some new ways ZHAW projects are processing and using health data to advance medical research and development?

SH: For example, the ZHAW Digital Health Lab is working on a collaborative customer-oriented project with the Department of Health and a major insurance company involving evidence-based tips on health topics and mobile apps to improve healthcare behaviour. The lab is also working on FairCare, an EU project focused on improving the coordination of formal and informal care.

AS: What do you think are the top three emerging technologies that will transform the healthcare industry and how medical care is provided?

SH: I believe a paradigm shift needs to happen in healthcare. Healthcare systems need to be human-centric with a focus on providing truly personalised medical care. Harnessing and unifying health data in smarter ways is one step in this direction. Connecting patient data into registries, reducing barriers to use of health data for statistical purposes, analysing health data from wearables, and enabling the interpretation of sensor data in real-time in clinics are examples of potential game-changers. Data fusion and machine learning will also become increasingly key tools in drug discovery and efficient clinical trial management.

At the same time, it is important to highlight that health data security and privacy should constantly be a top priority. Healthcare is highly regulated, and for good reasons. We should therefore collectively push healthcare innovation while safeguarding ethical rules.

AS: What can participants expect from its inaugural Digital Health Lab Day?

SH: The Digital Health Lab Day is a milestone in the work of the still young ZHAW Digital Health Lab. We are looking forward to keynotes from Prof Dr. Tavpritesh Segti (Indian Institute of Information Technology), Prof. Dr. Claudia Witt (University Hospital Zurich) and Dr. Ignacio H. Medrano (Savana Médica). In addition, there will be practice-oriented workshops in the afternoon. The event will end with a networking dinner where you can make new contacts and shape the future of healthcare with us!

We look forward to seeing you there! For more information, please visit:

 

 


About Prof. Dr. Sven Hirsch

Sven Hirsch

Prof. Dr. Sven Hirsch is a researcher and lecturer in the field of complex biomedical systems at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW). He heads the research group biomedical simulation and directs the ZHAW Digital Health Lab. In his work he merges statistical approaches like machine learning with mechanistic modelling to reproduce disease mechanisms and clinical pathways. He is active in health research to develop new disease biomarkers from clinical images, time series signals, and patient data to improve diagnosis and care. He has contributed to the understanding of intracranial aneurysm by simulating blood clotting and angiogenesis. His research activities now converge on digital health technologies and on making these promising tools useful.

 


About the author

Aisha Schnellmann is a Singaporean sociologist by training, interested in healthcare, education, and sustainability issues. She is passionate about producing content that promotes meaningful dialogue, focusing on print and digital content that resonates with a strong call-to-action. Based in Zurich, her interest in digital healthcare grew from the conversations she had with committed medical staff in rural hospitals in Asia, who remain hard-pressed with the technology available to them.

Again, we are looking at a promising start-up, which uses blockchain technology to develop a platform in healthcare, called “Sunny Lake”, based in beautiful Paris. It is built with the Ethereum blockchain and aims to offer an exchange platform for different stakeholders in the healthcare system like patients, physicians, researchers or laboratories. Their goal is to provide a toolkit, data and experts in order to conduct health and life science studies, in an efficient and effective way. What the benefits for patients/users are and why Sunny Lake is not a typical start-up, Jean-Christophe Despres (President and Co-founder) shared with us in an interview.

By Tram Trinh and Sunjoy Mathieu

Jean-Christophe, you are a French globetrotter and serial entrepreneur in the marketing field. Why did you decide to enable clinical studies with an emerging technology like blockchain ? Can you tell us more about you?

Jean-Christophe Despres: My entrepreneurial journey started back in the mid 90’s working on online communities. I later created the first ethnic marketing agency in France where I had to deal with public health campaigns targeting migrants. Once again, I’ve used a community-based approach. Later on, I’ve participated in a think tank, Club Jade, which launched those amazing projects on Big Data and Cancer, and an open source portable echograph. They happened to start from my office at the time and I had many opportunities to see the power of their growing communities. Talking with patients especially experts dealing with chronic diseases convinced me that a health community using blockchain technology would address major challenges in health and life science studies such as transparency and data privacy.

What is your Sunny Lake product?

Sunny Lake is an e-health platform based on Ethereum blockchain on which patients, physicians, researchers and labs can collect, share data and therefore build and test future health and life science studies in an accelerated mode.

This platform should become the meeting place for sharing between patients, physicians, research and lab organizations where everyone can find at an affordable and controllable cost, the tools, the data, the experts and the communities necessary to finalize the first steps of such studies. Our initial version of the Sunny Lake has just been launched and now we are developing an enhanced version, expected to go live in June 2018.

You mentioned Etherum is underlying your blockchain. Why select this one, since there are several other existing blockchain technologies?

Ethereum was designed to enable users to build smart contracts. Those contracts are algorithms which enable stakeholders to exchange data or counterparts, commonly referred to as tokens, in a secured and simple way. As our ecosystem involves many interactions with different entities (pharmaceutical companies or public labs) or individuals (experts or patients), we think that Ethereum is a fundamental layer for future applications. In addition, as a platform, we wanted to work on a public blockchain.

We understand that the benefits for patients and for the medical is a trustworthy reliable and traceable universe of questionnaire protocols, data and consent that can accelerate medical research findings. Is our perception correct?

With blockchain, there’s already a feature which is not questioned much, it’s timestamping. Bitcoin is running for many years with not a single fraud or bug on that matter. We are therefore quite confident with our business proposal regarding informed consent for instance. But there is more to it which is as important maybe as the internet revolution: the tokenization of our economy. This simply means that everybody in a community should be entitled to be rewarded for their participation through a common process. For Sunny Lake that means that there will be strong incentives for sharing data. We expect to receive massive feedback from patients not only because they will be rewarded but most of all because they will be able to measure up their own impact on research.

How do you envision the speed to adoption as everybody relies on trust and for the time being your direct customer is a business organisation, that will then reach out to the end user patient/consumers?

Well, this is why we are not a startup like others, always rushing. We need to build our own circle of trust, explain the impact of technology on business and change habits, participate in creating new standards. As long as we are moving forward, implementing our technology step by step, it’s ok. We can perfectly understand that the industry is watching us with interest and doubts. Hopefully, there are some pioneers and we are glad to receive more and more trust. Meanwhile, patients are eager to see this new age coming. It going to take a couple of years but we think it will bea fundamental change.

Jean_Christophe_Depres_Sunny_Lake_HEALTHINAR

It seems trust is a non-negotiable condition to impact a scaleable volume of questionnaires and consents not only in France but also globally?

The only issue is of a legal nature and it’s barely affecting us for what we are doing at the moment. For other matters, technology doesn’t care about borders. People suffering from rare diseases are already used to communicating with each other worldwide. What we want is us to have a greater voice and empowering them to initiate new research.

Jean-Christophe Despres, President & Co-Founder of Sunny Lake

What is the profile of companies using Sunny Lake? And why in your opinion do they trust you as all is based on Ethereum technology that other blockchain solutions could use?

Many pharmaceutical companies now understand they need a new deal with patients. It’s not always in their corporate culture and sometimes difficult in their highly regulated environment but they are eager to participate in trustworthy protocols. One of our client has challenged us because they didn’t want to have any record of patients public keys. It helped us a lot in designing the platform. If a company wants to use blockchain as a process, it doesn’t require Ethereum and we did that too. But most of them value this concept of community where a public blockchain makes full sense.

What are the concrete use cases you have been working on and was is the outlook for Sunny Lake?

Some real life science studies in Switzerland with the goal to create a tool for online consent, transparent, reliable and traceable. Every patient in the study could download on a third-party website the pair of encryption keys they would use for their consent. They are the only owners and holders of the keys. In order to have real consent, design of the protocol, training through simple videos were key to ensure complete understanding of the study purpose. The main investigator of the clinical study and himself could only receive the consent form to sign himself through e-mail and get the signature notarized by the blockchain. A first of its kind in real-life conditions.

As next steps, we will even receive more reliable data thanks to a methodology of registry based on transparency and unfalsifiable protocol, hence a stronger engagement from patients who can control their data and their traceability and enrollment probability.

Also, we’re launching an Initial Coin Offering. It directly relates to what I’ve mentioned regarding the tokenization of economy. Concretely, issued tokens will not only be displayed only to Sunny Lake but also to strategic partners that will contribute to build an improved ecosystem of clinical research. Patients will benefit from it but it may also involve other start-ups as well as pharmaceutical companies.

In a nutshell, what’s your critical life mission?

Contrary to many projects, we are not a portal, nor a “DMP” (Patient Medical Record) but an actor and conductor of an ecosystem. Our mission is to contribute to the best flow of quality data serving the future medicine based on big data and artificial intelligence. We want to facilitate data interoperability by creating meta data standards and by systematically notarizing exchanged data on the blockchain.

Thank you, Jean-Christophe!

Learn more about Sunny Lake and their projects:

Do you want your own start-up to be featured in a blogpost? Take this chance and contact us today!

We are proud to announce that the Social Media Manager from the UniversityHospital Zurich in Switzerland will be one of the four speakers at our first showcase about hospitals and social media. The hospital exists since 1204 and is today one of the largest hospitals in the country including exceptional academic research. It consists of 43 departments and institutes and provides medical support to 39’000 inpatients every year.
Their social media campaign has been long awaited and was finally released in April 2015. So we are very excited to see their extensive campaign expanding and have Andrea Heiniger speaking on behalf of the USZ as a social media newcomer at our event.Thank you!

andrea_heiniger

More about the UniversityHospital Zurich:
USZ
More about the social media campaign of the USZ:
http://blog.usz.ch/willkommen-in-den-social-media/Blog
Twitter: Twitter
For more information on HEALTHINAR follow this blog or visit us on
Twitter: https://twitter.com/healthinar