Digital health, epidemiology and higher education
Public health emergencies
For over twenty years, the group of mathematical epidemiologists at Fondazione Bruno Kessler led by Stefano Merler, has been developing quantitative epidemiology methods to strengthen epidemiological surveillance.
Computational epidemiology : the Health Emergencies center aims to develop basic epidemiological research to increase knowledge of the main factors that regulate the transmission of infectious diseases, developing methods – mainly based on mathematical and computational modeling – to provide information to decision makers in order to improve preparedness, prevention and response to health emergencies caused by communicable diseases.
Among the main projects and collaborations are:
- Studies to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Scientific advice for the government and regional task forces (Lombardy and Trentino) to face the Coronavirus emergency through the use of mathematical models on transmissibility.
- Studies on influenza transmission and mitigation.Scientific advice for the Government Task Force during the 2009 A/H1N1 pandemic.
- Studies on the transmission and containment of the Ebola virus.
- Studies on the transmission of vector-borne diseases, such as Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya.
- Among his main collaborations, the one with the Istituto Superiore di Sanità through the joint EPIQ laboratory for the quantitative study of the spread of infectious diseases and the Joint Research Unit FBK-FEM EPILAB which combines skills in quantitative epidemiology (FBK) and laboratory and field research (FEM).
Projects in the context of NRRP
The INF-ACT project will combine research excellence and application of its findings in real cases to i) fill gaps in knowledge of the biological characteristics of highly disseminated pathogens, ii) create a framework and infrastructure for centralized systematic monitoring of the evolution of multiple pathogens with epidemic potential circulating in humans, in animals and the environment, iii) study the circulation of pathogenic microorganisms at the human-animal interface and the risk of spill-over events, iv) define shared protocols for the implementation of monitoring and containment measures through the application of innovative tools, v) create a network and infrastructure for centralized systematic monitoring of clinical markers.
FBK, with its “Health Emergencies Center”, which provides support to the Ministry of Health and the Istituto Superiore di Sanità with quantitative epidemiology, is co-leader of Spoke 4 on “Epidemiology, monitoring and modelling (EPI-MOD)” and also participates in Spoke 2 activities.
The Supercomputing Center is one of five national research centers under the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) .Advanced by the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN), the new entity can count on 51 founding members, distributed throughout the national territory, from the public and private scientific research and industry sectors.
Dedicated to high-performance computing (HPC), big data management and quantum computing, the National Supercomputing Center will be based at the Tecnopolo Bologna tech hub: a citadel of innovation promoted by the Emilia-Romagna Region, thanks in part to investments by the Italian government and the EU, which already houses the European Weather Data Center (ECMWF) and will soon host the Leonardo supercomputer managed by CINECA and the INFN Computing Center, with the aim of building a distributed, cross-domain infrastructure that will provide scientific the research and manufacturing sector with support for the innovation and digitization of the country.
FBK, a founding member of the HPC Center, is involved in 3 Spokes:
- co-leader in the Spoke “Digital Society & Smart Cities” with the Digital Society Center;
- affiliated in the Spoke “Insilico Medicine & Omics Data” with the Digital Health & Wellbeing Center;
- affiliated with the Spoke “Earth & Climate” with the Digital Industry Center.
The priority line of the iNEST ecosystem falls under the “Digital, Industry, Aerospace” area of the National Research Plan (NRP)
iNEST is coordinated by the University of Padua and aims to extend the benefits of digital technologies to the main areas of specialization in the Northeast (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto and the Autonomous Provinces of Trento and Bolzano): to the industrial-manufacturing, agriculture, sea, mountain, construction, tourism, culture, health and food sectors. The interconnection of local ecosystems at the macro-region level will make it possible to work on a common “digital vision” for the benefit of the economy and citizens, with local strategies of smart specialization to be merged into a shared mission for the Northeast.
FBK participates as an affiliate of 2 Spokes (Trentino Spoke on digital health and healthcare and Udine Spoke on digital industry and cybersecurity).
Digital Health and Wellbeing
FBK works on the digital healthcare of the future, based on predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory medicine and on principles of equity and citizen empowerment.
Thanks to the collaboration with the Province of Trento and the Trento Province Healthcare System, FBK applies artificial intelligence technologies to systems that interact with people and help them take care of their health. This virtuous model is available, as a scalable and replicable model, for other territories that might want to experiment with it. The Head of the Center for Digital Health and Wellbeing is Stefano Forti.
Main technologies in this area:
- Digital Medicine platforms: telehealth systems, telemedicine, digital medical records with multi-device access.
- Virtual Reality: the research activity in this area will allow to design, test and validate the use of Virtual Reality for the management of stressful situations, to support senior citizens with mild dementia, to manage anxiety through immersion in relaxing environments and to accompany cancer patients as they prepare for chemotherapy sessions.
- Virtual Coaching (persuasive technology): FBK is conducting research in the field of virtual coaching systems to support citizens in maintaining and improving their health conditions. The approach is to provide citizens with a persuasive virtual partner who operates in a similar way to a human coach helping them achieve their health goals.
- Data Science for Health: it is an emerging discipline that integrates aspects of life sciences, mathematics, statistics and computer science. In our vision, the management, analysis and integration of large amounts of clinical and health data are key factors in addressing crucial challenges for improving the quality of public health.
- Technologies for human language processing: with applications both within documents and in medical and biomedical domains.
- Technologies for “conversational agents“: AI-based conversational agents, commonly referred to as chatbots, are increasingly widespread and, for some time now, have also made it into Healthcare. FBK chatbots are not just based on an ecosystem of rules and decision trees but are built on Natural Language Processing platforms that exploit AI, Machine Learning and Deep Learning skills.
An example of the main projects:
- Virtual coaching for Digital Therapeutics: digital therapeutics is the technology that offers therapeutic interventions guided by high quality software programs. These programs are based on scientific evidence obtained through rigorous and confirmatory clinical trials with the aim of preventing, managing or treating a broad spectrum of physical, mental and behavioral conditions. These are treatment interventions capable of improving clinical outcomes on a par with pharmacological treatment. They can take the form of apps, video games, websites, or wearable devices.
- AI in Health: data driven predictive models for precision medicine. The Center Units, in collaboration with national and international institutes and hospitals, create complete analysis environments, from the pre-processing of data to the implementation of the models and their application on cloud computing structures also equipped with GPUs.
- TreC +: app and online portal (trec.trentinosalute.net) that allow citizens residing or domiciled in the Autonomous Provinceof Trento to have a single point of access to the health services of the APSS. With TreC+ users can access their Electronic Health Records to view online information and documents concerning their health, as well as reports, drug prescriptions, specialist referrals, schedule exams and manage other TreC accounts (of children or people they care for).
Projects in the context of NRRP:
- Fondazione ICSC – High Performance Computing, Big Data e Quantum Computing (HPC)
Il Centro di supercalcolo è uno dei 5 centri nazionali per la ricerca previsti dal Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza (PNRR). Proposto dall’Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN), il nuovo soggetto può contare su 51 membri fondatori, distribuiti su tutto il territorio nazionale, provenienti dai settori pubblico e privato del mondo della ricerca scientifica e dell’industria.
FBK, membro fondatore del Centro HPC, è coinvolta in 3 diversi Spoke:
– co-leader nello Spoke “Digital Society & Smart Cities” con il Centro Digital Society;
– affiliato nello Spoke “Insilico Medicine & Omics Data” con il Centro Digital Health & Wellbeing;
– affiliato allo Spoke “Earth & Climate” con il Centro Digital Industry.
- Ecosistema iNEST – Interconnected Nord-Est Innovation Ecosystem
La linea prioritaria dell’ecosistema iNEST rientra nell’ambito dell’area “Digitale, Industria, Aerospazio” del Piano Nazionale della Ricerca (PNR).
FBK partecipa in qualità di affiliato a 2 Spoke (Spoke trentino sulla salute e sanità digitale e Spoke di Udine sulla digital industry e cybersecurity).
Higher Education for health
FBK per la Salute is a program designed to promote a new way of doing medicine, through advanced training exercises, seminars and public events. The program integrates skills with training activities, conducted in collaboration with the Trento Province Healthcare System (APSS), the University of Trento, the Medical Association and the School of specific training in General Medicine.
FBK per la Salute also provides a space dedicated to Health Literacy , that help patients understand care and recognize their health needs as well as actively contribute to treatment choices, navigating the health system. The coordinator of the Program is Antonella Graiff togheter with actors of the medicine system in Trentino.
Since 2021, FBK per health has been responsible for the management of the School for specific training in General Medicine in Trento.