Institute of Informatics: two ambitious projects funded by the highly selective NSF

The Swiss National Science Foundation is very selective in funding research at Swiss universities. The Institute of Informatics of the HES-SO Valais-Wallis is proud to see two of its projects funded by the SNSF. Antoine Widmer and Henning Müller, professors at the Management School and researchers at the institute, are launching two new projects in the field of eHealth thanks to this funding. A brief overview of what computer technology can do for children with autism spectrum disorders or new tools for lung cancer detection.

Antoine Widmer wants to refine ASD detection with immersive technologies

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) affect more than 2% of children born in Switzerland. Currently, the detection of ASD is faced with a gender bias, with a tendency towards under-diagnosis in girls, whose symptoms are often less apparent or different from those of boys. This bias is reinforced by detection criteria traditionally centred on male studies and by gender-specific societal expectations, which often lead to delayed diagnosis for girls. This topical issue has been the subject of many radio and TV programmes: 36.9° autism in women, Vacarme Diagnosing the invisible and Dingue ASD beyond clichés.

Interdisciplinary research at the HES-SO Valais-Wallis

To support clinicians in their work, Professors Antoine Widmer of the Institute of Informatics, Sarah Dini of the Institute of Social Work and Paul Matusz of the Institute of Health are collaborating in an institutional project involving three universities. This interdisciplinary project combines child neuroscience, social work and computer science, all of which are present at the HES-SO Valais-Wallis. Professor Widmer is continuing his research work in the field of health, having already worked on Innosuisse projects, particularly with people in need of integration or with health problems, as well as with seniors for immersive therapies at home. Co-constructed with partners in the field in Valais (Clinique dis7, association Eliézer), the project will improve the phenotyping of ASD, particularly in terms of co-morbidity or detection in girls.

How can the detection of ASD be improved?

To address these challenges, this research project led by the Institute of Informatics aims to refine the detection of ASD using computer vision, artificial intelligence (AI) and mixed reality. By combining motion analysis and ophthalmometry with AI algorithms, this project aims to identify the signs of ASD with greater accuracy. A key feature of this project is the use of mixed reality video games that create an immersive and interactive environment for accurate assessment of children’s movements and emotions. This approach combines the benefits of AI, computer vision and mixed reality to provide more balanced, gender-sensitive and individual-specific ASD detection.

Henning Müller, a partnership with the Valais Hospital

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the whole Valais population. The teams of Professor Henning Müller from the Institute of Informatics of the HES-SO Valais-Wallis are specialised in the field of eHealth and have been working for a long time on cancer detection using algorithms. This area of research is particularly important in view of the increasing digitisation of detection systems in hospitals. With the capacity to process vast amounts of data, medical informatics can improve patient management and help practitioners make treatment decisions.

Valais Hospital, one of the most important histopathology centres in Switzerland

The histopathology department of the Hôpital du Valais is one of the largest in Switzerland. Each year, it produces 400,000 slides containing tissues observed on a microscopic scale by clinicians and has begun its digital transformation. The Institute of Informatics of the HES-SO Valais-Wallis is a partner of the hospital, particularly in the digitalisation of its services. Equipped with an image visualisation system, the hospital wishes to develop computer extensions to provide decision-making support for health professionals. Professor Müller’s team is developing an algorithm for detecting lung cancers and classifying and quantifying their subtypes. This detection is invaluable in estimating the aggressiveness of cancer and helping clinicians select the most appropriate treatment option from the existing arsenal.

Open science or how to adapt past research for future applications

It is also planned to develop new computer extensions for this visualisation system and to use tools already developed at the Institute of Informatics to adapt them. The desire of the Valais Hospital to open to research will benefit patients and the scientific community. The data used so far by Professor Müller’s teams were public and it will be interesting to compare them with local data. Co-constructed with the hospital staff, these extensions can be improved with their feedback. The main objectives will be to find out whether the tools are working properly, whether they are saving time, whether they are improving the quality of diagnosis, and whether the level of confidence and satisfaction of health care teams has increased.

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