The great potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for the life sciences - from basic research in biology to medical applications - has to date largely been neglected. To leverage that potential in future, researchers from Heidelberg University, the German Cancer Research Center, and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory have founded a new research unit. It aims to support AI research in the life sciences and forge international links with activities in Heidelberg. The unit is part of the European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems (ELLIS). ELLIS Life Heidelberg will initially be funded by the founding institutions for five years.
According to Theresia Bauer, Science Minister of Baden-Württemberg, artificial intelligence and machine learning are key technologies and drivers of innovation for our future. As a research location, Baden-Württemberg offers huge potential in this area, including the research institutions in Heidelberg, which are "leaders in the development of AI applications in the field of medicine and the life sciences".
Technological progress is allowing increasingly detailed and ever larger datasets to be created in the life sciences and medicine. Yet generating new knowledge from these data often remains an unsolved problem for scientists. This is where ELLIS Life Heidelberg comes in. The researchers are focusing on issues ranging from deciphering basic principles of life to health and cancer research. The unit will develop new AI methods but also link technologies with data from the life sciences and make them available to the research community. Priority areas include the interpretation of data from medical imaging and the implementation of ethical and data protection guidelines. An interdisciplinary training programme for young scientists is to be set up in Heidelberg as well. The research unit also welcomes joint projects with partners in industry.
"ELLIS Life Heidelberg offers a unique opportunity to pool the outstanding research in the field of machine learning in Heidelberg and to help solve important medical problems," adds Carsten Rother of the Interdisciplinary Center for Scientific Computing (IWR) of Heidelberg University, who is one of the co-directors of the new unit. Prof. Rother directs the Visual Learning Lab at the IWR, with the two other groups of Ullrich Köthe and Dr Bogdan Savchynskyy. Researchers there are working on methods for extracting "hidden" data from images or videos.
ELLIS is an international consortium of researchers modelled after the European Laboratory for Molecular Biology. At 28 locations in 14 countries, leading researchers from basic AI research, the various areas of application and industry are working closely together to create an international research structure and further strengthen the competitiveness of AI research in Europe. The founding members of ELLIS Life Heidelberg are already very active in this network and particularly involved in the ELLIS Health programme, which is to be linked with the activities in Heidelberg.