Why is the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft placing a focus on medical research?
Geisslinger: One of the largest economic challenges facing us in the decades to come will be the continually rising costs of health care. For the first time in 2016, healthcare expenditure in Germany exceeded one billion euros per day. For 2017, the German Federal Statistical Office forecasts a year-on-year increase of around five percent. This means that health expenditure is rising much faster than gross domestic product, which will lead to considerable problems in health care.
How can German society deal with these problems?
Geisslinger: Innovations at the intersecting frontiers of scientific disciplines, in particular, are the key to developing groundbreaking and, at the same time, cost-effective healthcare practices. Novel, cost-efficient ideas can only be translated into concrete applications under new forms of collaboration. And this is what we are currently witnessing: a general emergence of collaboration between the four major areas of drugs, diagnostics, data and devices – the 4Ds. At present, only organizations that conduct application-oriented research and operate in a highly interdisciplinary manner, such as the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, are in a position to cover and combine the range of technological disciplines required for cost-efficient innovations.
How can Fraunhofer bring together the 4Ds?
Geisslinger: The way I see it, the 4Ds also represent, in effect, four professional groups: physicians, scientists, computer scientists, and engineers. Fraunhofer is unique among research organizations; its professional groups work together under one roof – at the interface of the 4Ds. This puts the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft in an exceptional position to conduct medical research.
To what extent is the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft already involved in medical research?
Geisslinger: Despite Fraunhofer’s success in developing innovative solutions, our profile as a major player in medical research is not visible enough, although we can be proud of the advances we have made in translational medical research. After all, 45 of the 72 Fraunhofer Institutes are involved in research in the field. Around 15 percent of Fraunhofer’s research and development budget is dedicated to medical research programs. These cover a wide range of topics – from prevention, diagnostics and therapy to care.
How do you plan to pool the available expertise?
Geisslinger: The President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Prof. Reimund Neugebauer, is keen to enhance medical research. We intend to introduce the new spirit of collaboration at multiple levels along the 4D interfaces, including in projects with Fraunhofer Foundations and in the high-performance centers where we work closely with university medical faculties. One example is the High-Performance Center Translational Biomedical Engineering in Hanover.
In January, Fraunhofer founded a cluster of excellence dedicated to immune-mediated diseases – a virtual institute that represents all the 4Ds. In addition, a call for tenders is currently underway for a lighthouse project on cost-effective solutions in medicine. By systematically joining up the 4Ds, our application-oriented research can yield a high level of added value.