© Inria / Photo B. Fourrier

Digitalisation is a strategic priority for public healthcare policy: major innovations in medicine are expected from the development of IT tools and the generalisation of digital models, which will contribute to improving the efficiency of healthcare systems and services, writes Inria in this press release..

In order to guide the digital transition of this sector in the Lyon region, Inria and the Hospices Civils de Lyon (HCL), the second largest hospital centre in France after AP-HP (Paris), are pooling their expertise to create a centre for the development of artificial intelligence and a joint project team dedicated to digital models for neuroscience.

On July 2021, the two bodies signed a “memorandum of understanding”, prior to concluding a framework agreement for tripartite collaboration (Inria / HCL / Claude Bernard–Lyon 1 University), thus officialising the details of this shared ambition. “The signing of a large-scale partnership between Lyon Public Hospitals and Inria testifies to the firm positioning of the University Hospital and its academic partners with regard to digital healthcare”, says Raymond Le Moign, Managing Director of Hospices Civils de Lyon.

A common political drive

“For the last ten years, the application of digital science in the healthcare sector has been a key focal point for Inria. Almost a third of its teams lead research which opens opportunities in this field”, according to Hugues Berry, senior researcher in molecular neuroscience and Deputy Scientific Director at Inria. “With 25 years of presence in the Lyon region, the institute has, in particular, developed internationally-renowned research in the modelling of life mechanisms, which will serve this partnership.”

Alongside Raymond Le Moign, Hugues Berry and Stéphane Ubéda, acting director of the Inria Lyon Centre, Delphine Maucort-Boulch, public health physician and head of the Public Healthcare centre at HCL, also contributed to defining the aims of this partnership. “With the generalisation of computing and the development of high-performance data analysis algorithms (such as for statistical learning), healthcare and medicine are undergoing a genuine revolution”, she explains.

Digital science is driving the development of precision medicine. In the future, innovations in this field, and particularly those drawing on artificial intelligence, will contribute to fine-tuning diagnoses and targeting treatment with an individualised approach. “Nevertheless, these techniques must prove their effectiveness and utility; one of the tasks of the partnership will be to demonstrate all the advantages of digital innovations for practitioners and patients”, Delphine Maucort-Boulch continues.

An AI development hub

As hosts of healthcare data since 2011, HCL have developed numerous actions relative to the patient file and the production of databases. Based on their experience, they created an Artificial Intelligence Commission (AIC) in 2018, responsible for defining the strategy of the university hospital in the fields of data analysis and AI. One of its aims is to link the results of research on artificial intelligence to the needs of care units.

Among the flagship projects of the partnership with the Institute is the development of a “healthcare search engine” capable of responding to requests in “medical” language via the analysis of various types of data (images, operation reports, patient files, scientific papers etc.). “To develop this tool, we’re drawing on the work of the Inria teams, whose researchers study techniques for the analysis of natural language”, Delphine Maucort-Boulch tells us.

The objective is to create genuine diagnosis and decision support tools, which should facilitate doctors’ tasks and improve patient care. The HCL thus host a pooled team of experimental and development engineers from Inria, who will ensure the industrialisation of the prototype tools emerging from this research, by focusing on code quality and software ergonomics, etc.

A joint research team

In the Institute’s new centre in Lyon, Inria and HCL will also create, along with their partner Theranexus (a biopharmaceutical firm originating from the CEA) and Claude Bernard–Lyon 1 University, a joint research team which will focus on digital applications for neuro-pharmacology. “The aim of our research will be to develop algorithmic techniques combining molecular and cellular analysis data with brain imaging data and medical information (patient files, clinical diagnoses, expert opinions and bibliographies, etc.), in order to make reliable forecasts on the effectiveness of drug candidates for the treatment of nerve system disorders”,Hugues Berry, head of the future team, explains.

This collaborative momentum will enable the transfer of certain research-based techniques towards their exploration in a hospital setting (biology, medical imaging, etc.) and towards the HCL’s IT systems (massive medical data analysis tools, care pathway software, etc.). Theranexus, for example, provides its expertise in the cellular field and in the clinical development of potential molecule candidates. “The coming together of the Institute’s teams and its partners will boost the transmission of knowledge and research results between the medical corps and digital researchers in areas targeted by clinicians, with the aim of improving diagnoses and treatment”, Hugues Berry concludes. 

Also interesting: The quest to use AI to help sufferers of dementia

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