EPFL projects make it past the first round to becoming FET Flagships



Two projects coordinated by EPFL – the Time Machine and Health EU – have made it into the second round of the selection process to become FET Flagships. If selected, they will receive one billion euros over ten years as part of the European Commission’s ambitious funding program.

Both of the EPFL projects that applied for the European Commission’s FET Flagship program have successfully cleared the first hurdle. These projects are the Time Machine, headed by Frédéric Kaplan at the Digital Humanities Laboratory, and Health EU, run by Adrian Ionescu at the Nanoelectronic Devices Laboratory (Nanolab).

A total of 33 projects from universities across Europe have applied for the program, which is intended to support future and emerging technologies (FET). Only 17 of them – just over half – were selected for the second round, scheduled to end on 18 September 2018.

A huge historical database

The Time Machine is based on the Venice Time Machine (VTM), a project that started in 2012 and served as a proof of concept. The VTM aimed to build a multidimensional model of the city that spans the past millennium, using millions of historical documents stored in a variety of formats. After five years, the project team has scanned 190,000 records from the Venice State Archive along with 720,000 photographs and 3,000 books on Venice’s history.

The objective of the Time Machine is to replicate the VTM across Europe. It will create a large-scale simulator for mapping 2,000 years of European history and turning the huge archives and sizeable museum collections into one big digital information system.

Many universities are already in the process of building their own Time Machine to bridge their cities’ past to the present and connect the paths of history. Amsterdam, Nuremberg, Paris, Jerusalem, Budapest and Naples have all decided to dig through their archives and create a huge linked database on a national and European level.

To date, 170 partner institutions from 32 countries have joined the Time Machine project and formed a consortium to develop new technology for digitizing, analyzing, accessing, preserving and sharing historical and cultural documents on a large scale.

“Making it past the first round of the selection process was critical, not just for our consortium but also for our cultural heritage in general,” says Frédéric Kaplan. “This is the first time that a cultural project of this scope – one billion euros over ten years and supported by institutions from all European countries – has been proposed. Never before has a continent-wide initiative aimed at turning our historical heritage into a key resource for education, research and the economy ever been attempted. This latest news brings us one step closer to making our dream of creating a time machine a reality for all Europeans.”

An avatar for managing your health

With Health EU, everyone will one day have their own medical avatar – a virtual replica of themselves featuring their own personal data – that could improve the way their health is managed and the treatments they are given. This international project, led by a consortium headed by EPFL and the University of Twente, aims to achieve enhanced disease prevention, early diagnosis, more accurate monitoring and customized, targeted administration of medicines and treatments, especially for increasingly common diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular, chronic and neurodegenerative disorders.

The project’s core idea is to combine customized medicine with digital technology, using the latest technological developments such as connected objects and artificial intelligence, as well as the novel concepts of digital twins and organs-on-chips. Digital twins are essentially computer models that enable doctors to test and measure the effect of variables, processes and scenarios that would be impossible to apply in the real world. Organs-on-chips let doctors observe the biological functions of an organ or the effect of a medicine – but outside the human body. That has the advantage of avoiding side effects that can sometimes be extremely harmful and allowing treatments to be tailored as closely as possible to a patient’s needs.

“The Health EU project will lay the foundation for a bright future for European healthcare in the 21st century,” says Adrian Ionescu. “It represents a human avatar-based revolution, where personalized medicine and the early interception and prevention of diseases will create an economically sustainable approach and enhance everyone’s quality of life.”

Professor Ben Feringa, who won the 2016 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the development of molecular machines, adds: “This is a very ambitious program that combines modern science and technology to create new opportunities for the future of healthcare and keep it affordable.” Professor Feringa is a pioneer in the field of molecular engines, catalysis and smart medication.

Health EU is being coordinated by EPFL in association with the University of Twente and HDMT (Organ on Chip association), both based in the Netherlands, and represented in the coordination board by professor Albert van den Berg. More than 90 scientists from 47 leading-edge research groups at universities, institutes, clinics and companies in 16 European countries are directly involved in the project. Around 60 other scientists are project partners.

EPFL also plays a key role in a third project in the running for a FET Flagship, Robotics Flagship, which made it through to the second round as well.

Time Machine website: http://timemachineproject.eu/

Health EU website: https://www.health-eu.eu/

To know more about Robotics Flagship: http://www.roboticsflagship.eu/