Medical education may be transformed by the development of new ICT technologies that could change everything from patient record management to the monitoring of patient health after medical procedures. © NTNU Info/Rune Petter Ness
ICT supports the Norwegian edge in the world economy, while maintaining the country’s standard of living and high salaries. The innovative use of ICT technologies reduces the demand for personnel, an advantage in a country where salaries and expenses are high compared to the much of the world. “We have to use ICT to work smarter, to be more effective,” according to Rune Foshaug, Senior Adviser at Abelia, the business association of Norwegian
knowledge and technology-based enterprises.
Nearly NOK 30 billion was invested in ICT R&D in Norway in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available. This number represents 1.5% of the country’s gross national product, and about 20% of all R&D expenditures in Norway, with 81% of that ICT research money provided by the business sector itself.
One important Government effort is a 10-year long ICT research programme funded by the Research Council of Norway called VERDIKT, which has an annual budget that is expected to grow to NOK 500 million by 2011. Fully 66 PhDs and 14 Post-doc positions have already been funded by the programme, which covers areas as varied as ICT in medical applications to ICT in traffic control.
A Perfect Medical Match
Few areas of society are as complex and information-laden as medicine – a fact that makes medical care a perfect candidate for ICT. Norwegian scientists are developing ways to use the power of ICT to decode the secrets of the human body with tiny sensors, or with advances in ultrasound and other imagining techniques. Other researchers are finding ways to manage patient information and the inner workings of the medical care system – with the goal of harnessing technology to improve human health and well-being.
A portion of Norway’s medical ICT research is conducted with funding from VERDIKT, which directs 8.8% of its project funding to health care sector applications. The Research Council also supports health care research through programmes such as Centres of Excellence or Centres for Research-Based Innovation, and through the efforts of researchers at SINTEF and the Simula Research Laboratory, the major universities such as the University of Oslo, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the University of Tromsø.
The result of all this research has also led to the foundation of a number of Norwegian spin-off companies, such as Norchip, which makes a credit-card sized diagnostic kit, Alertis Medical, which makes sensors to measure blood gasses, and bio-information companies such as Interagon and Pubgene, which analyse genetic information.
Information Saving Lives
When it comes to patient care, information is everything. Doctors need to find relevant medical details amid the vast sea of a patient’s medical history. A patient has information he or she would like to share with the doctor. And in some cases, that patient-doctor sharing of information has to be bridged over considerable physical distances, as is common in the more rural areas of Norway. These demands have been an important driver in shaping the development of ICT tools for medicine in Norway.
Researchers at the NTNU’s MI Lab are working with a variety of industry cooperators, including GE Vingmed Ultrasound AS. This image of the heart shows current ultrasound technology using a GE Vivid7 Dimension Ultrasound. © GE Healthcare/GE Vingmed Ultrasound
One VERDIKT project coordinated by the Rikshospitalet/Radium Hospital Medical Centre in Oslo is developing ways for patients to communicate with their doctor and update their own medical records from a home computer or mobile phone. Researchers have developed a tool called Choice, which allows patients to enter their own symptoms and treatment needs on a computer. The tool has been tested with roughly 1,000 cancer patients at the Rikshospitalet-Radiumhospitalet Medical Centre.
Another VERDIKT project to develop flexible medical files, called POCMAP, is being headed by researchers at NTNU in Trondheim. The goal is to develop a mobile device so health care professionals can bring up a patient’s electronic file no matter the location – whether at the patient’s bedside or from an office computer.
At the University Hospital of North Norway, the Tromsø Telemedicine Laboratory (TTL) has been established as a Centre for Research-based Innovation, funded by the Research Council of Norway at NOK 180 million over the eight years of the project. The TTL’s partners are the University of Tromsø, Norut IT, Telenor, IBM, DIPS, Well Diagnostics, Norwegian Healthnet, and the Northern Norway Regional Health Authority. The goal of the TTL is to develop telemedicine approaches that can be commercialized, with a particular focus on enabling the Norwegian health system to provide the elderly and those with chronic illnesses with safe and effective home care.
Wireless Health Care
Miniaturization and advances in nanotechnology have made it possible to develop tiny sensors that can measure all kinds of critical changes in a patient’s organs and tissues. According to Dag Ausen, Senior Adviser at SINTEF, this is one future of medicine. “What will be true is that in five to 10 years, doctors can take advantage of existing technologies, to get much more information about a patient from these kinds of sensors and wireless systems,” Ausen says.
These tiny sensors are being evaluated in an initiative called “Wireless Health Care”, which combines the efforts of researchers in Trondheim, Tromsø and Oslo, and is a part of a larger project called “Wireless Future”, initiated in February 2004 by the largest telecom operator in Norway, Telenor, along with SINTEF, and the ICT branch of the Norwegian Trade Association, Abelia. More than 150 Norwegian businesses are now involved.
Among the companies established to take advantage of the biosensor market is Alertis Medical AS in Oslo. The company was founded in 2000 to commercialize a unique technology for the early detection of critical conditions related to blood supply and respiration, and was developed by researchers from Rikshospitalet University Hospital, Oslo. The company’s first device is a miniaturized disposable biosensor that provides early warning of blood and oxygen deprivation in tissue, which can be a common complication of surgery, post-operative care and organ/tissue trauma.
No Strings Attached
Two-thirds of all ICT research in Norway is carried out at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, which has contributed to major ICT companies such as Google and Yahoo locating R&D offices in the city. © Arild Juul/NTNU SA
Researchers at NTNU’s Medical Imaging Laboratory (the MI Lab) are using an ultrasound and MR imaging in a different approach to non-invasive ways of examining the heart and other organs. The laboratory was appointed in 2006 as a Centre for Research-based Innovation by the Research Council. The award involves yearly funding of NOK 40 million over the eight years of the programme.
One MI Lab project involves improving the visualization and quantification of blood flow, using ultrasound to assess blood flow in vessels, and through the heart chambers and valves. Still another project is designed to put advanced cardiac ultrasound techniques in the hands of non-expert users, such as general practice doctors. One of the major strengths of the MI Lab is its strong partnerships with industry leaders, such as GE Vingmed Ultrasound AS, Fast Search & Transfer and a host of other dedicated companies and non-industry alliances.
Hand in Hand with Oil & Gas
Overall, Norway’s economy is dominated by the oil and gas industry, with Norway’s ICT sector third or fourth in size, depending upon the statistics used to measure economic contribution. Those numbers don’t show the whole picture, as ICT is fundamental to the success of Norway’s largest industries. The oil and gas industry provides an excellent example, doing everything it can to use ICT research to continue to develop activities on the Norwegian Continental Shelf and beyond, turning challenges into Norway’s advantage by developing new technologies that are being exported globally.
One company that has helped pioneer this ICT petroleum revolution is the Trondheim-based Electromagnetic Geoservices ASA, or EMGS. The company was a spin-off from Statoil in 2002 to commercialize the use of electromagnetic energy to help map oil and gas reservoirs under the ocean floor, in a process called seabed logging. ICT plays an important role in EMGS’s operations, in the processing of all their electromagnetic data– in fact, the demand is such that EMGS operates a Dell Blade cluster computer with 1060 processors operating at 7.2 terra FLOPS – one of the most powerful computers in Norway.
IBM, one of the world’s largest IT research organizations, is also an important player in bringing ICT solutions to the oil and gas industry, including its Oil & Gas Centre of Excellence in Stavanger. “We are leading an industry initiative for the rest of IBM from Norway,” says Ingvild Grimstad, an IBM Norway spokesperson. “The solutions and technologies we develop in close cooperation with our partners, and supported by our research labs in the United States, will enable us to develop solutions for the industry as a whole. After we develop solutions for the Norwegian market, we’ll market these ideas to the rest of the world.”
Telenor’s building at IT Fornebu outside of Oslo has won a number of international architecture awards, including the Prix d’Excellence from the FIABCI. © MTelenor, Damian Heinisch
Simula Research Laboratory is another good example of the strength of Norwegian ICT, conducting research in the fields of communication technology, scientific computing and software engineering. Established in 2001, the group is funded through the Research Council of Norway, but also cooperates with industry partners. In May 2007, Simula opened the Simula School of Research and Innovation. The school’s graduate students are primarily supervised by researchers at Simula affiliated with the University of Oslo’s Department of Informatics.
Many research efforts are conducted at Simula is in its Scientific Computing Department, where the Center for Biomedical Computing has been awarded a Centre of Excellence designation. Projects being undertaken by the Centre include a mathematical simulator for the electrical and mechanical behaviour of the heart. By creating this mathematical model, researchers can examine the functioning of the heart in both healthy and stressed conditions.
At SINTEF Petroleum Research, researchers are using techniques from the computer games industry to develop a new kind of interactive drilling tool, called “eDrilling”. Resembling a video game, the tool allows people who are thousands of kilometres from the well site to watch in real-time, supervise drilling or simply learn from experienced drillers. The eDrilling effort is just one part of the Center for Integrated Operations in the Petroleum Industry, a collaboration composed of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), SINTEF Petroleum Research and the Institute for Energy Research, some of the world’s major international oil companies, and researchers from the international environment.
Companies are also using visualization and 3D simulations to help in other areas of oil and gas production. This kind of development is of particular interest to StatoilHydro, which is working with StormFjord AS of Bergen to develop visualization of its dozens of oil platforms and other facilities in the Norwegian Sea. Scientists at the company’s Trondheim research division are working on converting all of StatoilHydro’s 3D construction files for a programme that turns them into a kind of 3D world for training and teaching.
With over four million mobile phone subscriptions, Norway actually has more mobile phone subscribers than inhabitants. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Norwegian companies are strong players in the ICT market, and examples are numerous. Intelligent Quality AS from Vinstra has developed an ICT platform called Arc Communicate, which allows employees in an organization to share information and communicate with each other, no matter where they are in the world, and no matter whether they’re using a computer, a mobile telephone or a regular telephone.
Telenor Research and Innovation (R&I) has recently established iLabs, (innovation Labs), which has developed a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) and demonstrators based on open source, called the iLabs Mobile Toolbox. By using this toolbox, users can make their own mobile clients and participate in various network communities and blogs from a mobile terminal. The toolbox has also been integrated with Blogger, EZ Publish and Google Talk. iLabs is collaborating with Sun Microsystems, EZ Systems, NTNU and the University of Oslo in these efforts.
VERDIKT (Core Competence and Added Value in ICT) is one of the Research Council of Norway’s large-scale programmes. The programme finances projects that maintain and advance the Norwegian ICT industry’s technical expertise so that it remains internationally competitive. The VERDIKT programme will span 10 years, ending in 2014.