Big Data and 5G technology in healthcare, research, and business. The University of Milan’s projects at MIND

The University of Milan at MIND is at the forefront of the Seed4Innovation, MUSA, and CATCH atMIND projects, combining innovation, technology, computer science, and the 5G network. Innovation is aimed at supporting ideas and companies operating in healthcare research and business.

Accelerating ideas for innovative solutions, ferrying them towards their industrial or commercial realization, and creating digital infrastructures that utilize 5G to process data for measuring and validating projects for large hospitals or for the business of small and medium-sized enterprises in the healthcare field. This is the core of the Seed4Innovation, MUSA, and Catch atMind projects, carried out by the University of Milan at MIND – The Milano Innovation District. With these projects, says Ernesto Damiani, Professor and Director of the SESAR Lab, Department of Computer Science at the University of Milan, “we would like to demonstrate that we can help the entire Milanese and Lombard community and not only that, but also make Milan the capital of healthcare innovation.”

MIND is among the pilot areas selected by T-Factor, a research project financed by the European Union that examines the theme of temporary uses in large regeneration projects. As part of the temporary initiatives to activate the area and in order to extend the knowledge of what is already happening in MIND, T-Factor, in collaboration with Edra and ITTBiomed, has asked partners and companies present in MIND to narrate their scientific discoveries, studies, and innovative actions, spreading science and knowledge.

Projects and mentoring acceleration with Seed4Innovation

Seed4Innovation is the program designed to accelerate the development of highly innovative ideas and solutions, born from science-driven research, and promoting their industrial or market application. In particular, it aims to increase and communicate university research, consolidate partnerships between the academic world and industry, and support ideas to reach the market.

The three main areas in which the project operates are: Life Sciences & Healthcare (from drug discovery to development, diagnostics, medtech, to innovative solutions for patients) Agrifood & Sustainability (such as green biotech, bioenergy & biomaterials, circular economy, sustainable production) and Manufacturing & Digital (production technologies, advanced materials data-driven innovation just to name a few topics).

The goal – explains Damiani – is to create companies. If you don’t have a company, but only the idea, then there is Seed4Innovation that helps in its realization. Especially for innovation in healthcare, helping to create the core that will then move forward.”

Starting from the call for ideas that collects proposals, the selected projects follow a path of enhancement with insights into intellectual property and patents, pitch decks, and value propositions. Then they move on to the mentoring phase to better outline the project strategy with the collaboration of R&D, Business Development, and Intellectual Property experts from the world of industry and services.

Finally, the selected projects access the acceleration phase where they can meet investors, carry out validations, and create prototypes with a view to reaching the industry and the market. Here the projects receive PoC – Proof of Concept funding from the University and companies can contribute with Corporate Grants to support one or more projects of interest compared to the company’s development lines.

The 5G-based infrastructure of MUSA for Big Data and Open Data

MUSA, acronym for Multilayered Urban Sustainability Action, is an innovation ecosystem funded by the Ministry of University and Research under the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) aimed at transforming the metropolitan area of the city into an innovation ecosystem. It was created in collaboration between the University of Milano-Bicocca, Politecnico of Milan, Bocconi University, University of Milan, and numerous public and private partners. In particular, the intervention areas of the project, called “Spokes,” are:

1Urban regeneration;

2Big data and open data for life sciences;

3Entrepreneurship and technology transfer;

4Economic impact and sustainable finance;

5Luxury fashion and sustainable design;

6Innovation for a sustainable and inclusive society.

The MUSA Spoke 2 is coordinated by the University of Milan, led by Damiani. The goal, explains the Professor, is to create “an infrastructure, the first in Europe, on which innovative healthcare ideas are measured and validated” using the 5G network, with the support of TIM and Almaviva, an IT company that manages services. “People don’t imagine that 5G can make Milan the capital of healthcare innovation. We want to use the network to design new drugs, risk models for citizens, but also healthy lifestyle and prevention.”

The network is “a pervasive mobile support to create on-demand, in very short times, studies of all kinds needed for innovation and healthcare. Process studies, design of new drugs, therapeutic aids experimentation. Thanks to the network, we can create what used to require the association of static laboratory structures, in addition to regulatory and bureaucratic aspects. Instead, we want to automate it in full compliance with regulations and privacy. Our idea is to mainly use secondary data, that is to leave primary data at hospitals, and extract parameters from Artificial Intelligence models. This is called Federated Learning, in other words, distributed Artificial Intelligence models: if it is not possible to use primary patient data, “the internal structure of a model that has seen it is shared. This is MUSA’s idea: to be able to organize studies based on secondary data very quickly.”

We will conduct some pilot studies,” Damiani continues. “One of these, for example, is on the staging of prostate cancer, which benefits from complex models with patient data collected in hospitals. We do not share patient images and data; we share parameters of local models that have been trained in hospitals and then put together to create the model of models.” The 5G, “which we want to have by the end of 2024, will also include the cells of MIND where the main hospitals are located.” This infrastructure is accessed through special SIM cards that lead to MUSA, and “anyone who wants to be part of a multicenter study that will lead to a healthcare outcome can join.”

CATCH atMIND, serving Italian and international small and medium-sized enterprises

CATCH atMIND is the European Digital Innovation Hub coordinated by the University of Milan in collaboration with 17 partners from the academic, clinical, technological, innovative business, and third-sector worlds, as well as Confcommercio. The project, which has received the Seal of Excellence from the European Commission, focuses on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to offer innovative business-oriented services in the field of healthcare and life sciences.

CATCH atMIND provides computational services, based on the same infrastructure as MUSA, to make business ideas work “especially for small innovative companies that, for example, want to study a new type of prosthesis or a new commercial service, always aimed at the healthcare sector, for free.” An example is the validation of business ideas such as a Bed&Breakfast “for relatives of hospitalized patients. And you want to know how many rooms will be required next month in order to make them available at affordable prices.” Another service is the validation of medical devices for regulatory approval, as it was the case for a company that produces absorbable breast prostheses for post-surgery tumor.

In the past,” concludes Professor Damiani, “universities could not do these activities, but the PNRR has put us in a position to try, and so we would like to demonstrate that we can help not only the Milanese and Lombard communities but also others. In fact, we are part of a European network of nine centers all specialized in healthcare. CATCH atMIND services, for example, will also be available in other European countries through the group’s centers, and we could provide theirs; therefore, there is a sort of horizontal exchange of services within this community.”

Finally, CATCH atMIND services are tailored to the client’s needs and are provided 100% free for small businesses, while up to 75% for large companies until the end of 2025, thanks to the PNRR. Subsequently, to access these valuable services, companies will need to make payments. To request information and access the service, it is possible asking to the physical counter at Bio4Dreams in MIND, one of the companies of CATCH atMIND.