Centre for Artificial Intelligence in Public Health Research © Manuel Frauendorf/skyfilmberlin

06 June 2024

The ZKI-PH (Centre for Artificial Intelligence in Public Health Research) of the Robert Koch Institute is researching new approaches to public health.

Whether image analysis or the recognition of complex correlations: Artificial intelligence can make a major contribution to research into infectious and non-communicable diseases. A research center has been set up at the Robert Koch Institute specifically for this purpose. More than 35 scientists are now working on almost 40 projects at the ZKI-PH.

How does climate change affect pandemics and public health? And how can digital surveillance of public health and early warning systems ensure social resilience? Current questions such as these have two things in common: to answer them, a very large amount of complex data is required, which must be evaluated, and they are key questions for projects at the Center for Artificial Intelligence in Public Health Research (ZKI-PH) of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Young team at an innovative location

“The ZKI-PH is a young and dynamic center that is committed to the same goal of all colleagues at the RKI using state-of-the-art technologies: to protect and improve the health of the population,” says Dr. Katharina Ladewig, Managing Director of the RKI ZKI-PH. “With the goal of a comprehensive understanding of the spread and prevention of diseases in the 21st century in mind, the ZKI-PH combines the traditional expertise of the RKI in the field of infectious and non-communicable diseases with the central methodological building blocks of machine learning.”

The ZKI-PH is located on the third floor of the ultra-modern Center for Future Technology (ZFZ) in Wildau, south-east of Berlin. The ZFZ, which opened in March 2021, is strategically located in the Wildau Technology and Science Park, which includes the Wildau University of Applied Sciences and the Fraunhofer HHI.

AI in five specialist areas

The ZKI-PH researchers work in a total of five specialist areas: AI basics, phylogenomics, image analysis, climate and social analytics and visualization. In the field of phylogenomics, for example, the evolutionary processes of pathogens of modern infectious diseases are deciphered and historical pathogens discovered by integrating historical pathogens.

In the field of image analysis, on the other hand, algorithms are primarily developed so that image and video data can be evaluated faster and better for research in AI-supported processes. Topics and projects such as AI-supported monitoring of pathogens through wastewater-based epidemiology or the development of digital models and early warning systems to build social resilience against climate-related health risks are dealt with in the Climate and Society Analysis department. Visualization focuses on the development of computer-aided solutions at the interface of visualization and artificial intelligence in the field of public health.

Many projects already underway

Although the go-ahead for the establishment of the center was only given almost three years ago, the list of cooperation partners is already long and includes almost forty institutions, including several Helmholtz centers, Charité - Universitätsmedizin and Freie Universität Berlin, as well as the WHO headquarters in Geneva and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, USA.

The ZKI-PH is currently working on around 40 research projects: These include, for example, a project to define measles transmission chains, the design and implementation of a Lusatian Centre for Digital Public Health (LauZeDiPH) at the BTU campus in Senftenberg as part of the Lusatia Science Park, and the AI-supported analysis and visualization of pandemic situations.

As of April 2024, the center has 38 scientific employees, 17 of whom are part of the specially developed doctoral program “AI in Public Health”.

This portrait was first published in German on healthcapital.de.