In January 2019, Professor Dr. Tobias Schaeffter took up his position as ECDF Professor of Biomedical Imaging at Technische Universität Berlin. Parallel to this position, he also heads the Medical Physics and Metrological Information Technology division at the National Metrology Institute of Germany (PTB).
The Berlin-born scientist initially studied electrical engineering and computer science at Technische Universität Berlin. “Towards the end of my studies, I attended a series of lectures on medical imaging and was fascinated by the technical challenges it involves and its diverse medical applications,” says Schaeffter, for whom interdisciplinarity is the dominant theme of his career. As a consequence, he decided to write his degree thesis in the field of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at the teaching hospital Virchow-Klinikum, part of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, which allowed him to work on a radiological problem by applying approaches taken from engineering. For his doctorate, he switched to the University of Bremen’s Department of Biochemistry, where he used spectroscopic MI procedures to investigate cerebral metabolism using spatial resolution. The goal of his doctoral research was to accelerate this relatively slow, non-invasive procedure to make it usable for medical purposes.
Schaeffter’s main objective is to use imaging techniques for the quantifiable measurement of biophysical parameters in the human body: “The challenge of the future lies in using figures to underpin imaging techniques in order to establish comparable diagnoses and an objective measurement of the effects of treatment,” says Schaeffter. “Once we succeed in the quantitative measurement of biophysical parameters such as blood velocity, oxygen supply or other tissue properties, we will be able to assess treatment effects much more rapidly and objectively than is the case in purely visual diagnosis.” All this requires cooperation with clinical users and industrial companies.
Indeed, Schaeffter’s doctorate was itself the product of cooperation with Philips Research Hamburg. “Following my doctorate, I spent ten years working in industrial research at Philips and, in addition to conducting basic research into MRI equipment, I also integrated our research results into products for clinical use.”
In 2006, he was appointed professor at King’s College London, where he helped establish a new biomedical engineering department. His research continued to focus on the development of fast and quantitative measurement techniques, particularly in cardiac imaging.
In 2015, the National Metrology Institute of Germany (PTB) appointed him head of division in Berlin. The division aims to develop quantitative measurement methods and reference procedures for medical measurement technology in order to ensure thecomparability of measurement data between different devices and manufacturers.
“At the ECDF, especially, I’m placing myself in the field of digital health. In today’s medicine, we’ve already got a wealth of data at our fingertips. The problem is that, as a rule, this data is not comparable, because it’s based on different measurements; this prevents it from being amalgamated in the way that is necessary. My personal goal is – in cooperation with colleagues from data science, machine learning and medicine – to develop methods that can characterize this data in such a way that it becomes comparable and, thereby, also of conclusive value for large population-based studies,” says Schaeffter.