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Space for Intelligent Health Workshop

This one-day workshop held by the ESA Downstream Gateway discussed how space technologies can have a major impact on innovations in the health sector on Earth. The panellists, belonging to public and private organisations, discussed recent developments in the sector, the difficulties of combining innovation and regulation, and the challenge of big data solutions vs the protection of private data.


Topic overview: How Space can contribute to disruption and innovation in the Health ecosystem?


The Health Care sector was hit by COVID-19, unprepared and with severe consequences. At the same time, the pandemic accelerated it’s digitalisation in an unprecedented manner on a global scale, especially in form of telemedicine and digital analytics solutions. Many of these applications have their origins in space. Space technology, in particular Human Spaceflight, Robotics, Earth Observation and Satellite Navigation, and health applications are influencing each other, leading to technological adaptations and improvements.

The use of AI for diseases diagnosis, chirurgical interventions and patient monitoring as well as the use of interpretable algorithm in machine learning and of AI to extract value-adding outcome from medical literature and pathology reports are paving the path for a profound transformation of the Health Care system. Applications of those technologies can help augment clinical workflow and more in general the promotion of an holistic approach to hospital management and process optimisation

In addition to supporting individual and public health, a global perspective is critical to achieve significant technological advancement. This is where the concept of One Health plays a key role as a systematic approach to understanding environmental change and damages (e.g. deforestation, extensive farming), impact on animal health, and consequently its impact on human health, especially for waterborne and vector borne diseases. Improved scientific collaborations with shared datasets from various sources and the use of AI will further improve skills in monitoring, tracking, screening, mapping and modelling of diseases and pandemics.

ESA has already an established role in the sector and a clear willingness to be at the forefront of the new needs and strategic goals in order to tailor its action in support to the sector.

Donatella Ponziani, Downstream Gateway Officer at ESA, Johann Wörner, Director General of ESA, together with ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano opened this Workshop illustrating the opportunities that the space sector can offer to health technology on Earth. The DG of ESA presented the Downstream Gateway as the first point of contact between the 4 pillars (Science and Exploration, Safety and Security, Applications, Enabling and Support) and the business sector (both space and non-space), with a perspective of “One Space to the Customer”. Of particular importance were several experiments presented that have led to new discoveries for health science on Earth in areas such as osteoporosis, blood pressure, nutrition, acoustics, optics and neurology.

Jan Wörner – Director General, ESA Space for Intelligent Health
Luca Parmitano – ESA Astronaut The mission of an Astronaut for medical research


Panel 1: Regulation and policy perspectives on the health care sector


The first panel discussed the current and future regulations and public policies in the light of innovative digital solutions such as big data and artificial intelligence. There is an increasing need to invest in infrastructure and obtain and share quality data to increase efficiency, decrease costs and bring innovations in the sector. This can be achieved through telemedicine, personalised medicine, artificial intelligence applied to diagnostics and robotic surgery. However, regulatory adaptions are moving forward slowly as questions with regard to safety, data protection, privacy rights and cybersecurity remain within the general public. All this considered, the creation of a reference regulatory framework will be a challenge for the near future. Another topic of discussion was how space applications can intervene in disaster management, in particular in the reduction of health impacts of disasters, through synergies among existing initiatives and practices, networking and global collaboration.

This panel was moderated by Donatella Ponziani, Head of the Downstream Gateway Office at ESA.

Shirishkumar Ravan – Head of UN-SPIDER Office of Beijing, United Nations Leveraging Space for Global Health Efforts of UNOOSA
Bernardo Mariano Junior – Chief Information Officer, World Health Organisation Global Strategy on Digital Health
Marjan van Meerloo – Policy officer, DG Research & Innovation, Directorate Healthy Planet, European Commission Health and environmental observation
Dipak Kalra – President, The European Institute for Innovation through Health Data and the European Institute for Health Records How Space can contribute to disruption and innovation in the health ecosystem
Prof. Piotr Szymański – Chair of the ESC Regulatory Affairs Committee, European Society of Cardiology ESC
Prof. Engelbert Niehaus – University of Koblenz-Landau Citizen Perspective on Downstream Gateway


Panel 2: The technological needs and trends of the health care sector


The second panel focused on technological needs and solutions including the stronger focus on disease prevention and workforce safety. The various panellists presented solutions such as artificial intelligence applied to diagnostics, telemedicine, and 3D printing for the creation of low-cost and highly personalised medical devices and more accurate diagnoses. The socioeconomic impact of artificial intelligence on the European health system was also covered, as it is fundamental in order to better understand the role this technology will have in the future.

The panel was moderated by Bianca Hoersch, Chief Digital Officer at ESA.

Michael Strübin – Director Digital Health, MedTech Europe AI in healthcare
Lluc Diaz – Open Innovation Lead, Digital Incubator & Innovation, Novo Nordisk Digital Innovation in Healthcare
William Carbone – Business Development Aerospace & Defense Global Automotive, IBM A&D Workforce Health & Safety
Francesco De Stefano – Chief Executive Officer, Caracol AM At the forefront of additive manufacturing, enabling your next move
Eugene Borukhovich – Chairman & Chief Operating Officer, YourCoach Health Human Eye in AI & Health & Wellness Coaching
Victor Savevski – Chief Innovation Officer, Humanitas Health Center Management models and best practice to accelerate healthcare innovation processes in the light of the COVID-19 emergency


Panel 3: ESA involvements in the health sector


In the third panel, ESA experts illustrated the agency’s contributions in supporting the development of health applications and services on Earth and how they can lead to successful business projects. Macro trends such as the ageing world population and the access to health care in rural areas, along with the new possibilities created by the GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) technology to support Intelligent Health were presented. The difficulties faced by astronauts in orbit and customised solutions that allow medical treatment in space, but also the understanding of the human body, were presented. Various examples of medical research in a zero gravity environment, spin-ins and spin-outs, examples of space enabled solutions as well as ways of how to work with ESA were illustrated. Finally, it was covered how environmental conditions impact the COVID-19 pandemics and how COVID-19 related policy measures affect the environment, businesses and everyday life.

This panel was moderated by Charlotte Mathieu, Head of Industrial Policy and Economic Analysis Section at ESA.

Guillame Weerts – Head of Space Medicine, European Astronaut Centre Medical Challenges and Projects in support of Space Exploration
Arnaud Runge – Medical Engineer, ESA SPACE 4.0 Intelligent Health From Technology Development to Business Applications
Jason Hatton – Science Coordinator for Biology and Environmental Monitoring, ESA European Exploration Envelope Programme (E3P) Health Research and Applications Opportunities
Alessandra Fiumara – Head of Office – Competitiveness in Positioning Navigation and Timing, ESA Positioning Navigation and Timing for Intelligence Health
Fabio Caramelli – VEGA Production and Future Missions Project Manager, ESA Space Rider Service
Anca Anghelea – Earth Observation Open Data Scientist, ESA Rapid Action on COVID-19 and EO

Technologies developed in space have led and will lead in the future to many innovations for health on Earth. Artificial intelligence, big data, telemedicine and robotics are the new frontiers on which we must invest in the future and ESA is committed in tackling those challenges with an innovative mindset.


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