Published: 09-10-2017 15:25 | Updated: 13-10-2017 09:44

AI and Global Health in focus during departmental visit

When vice-chancellor Ole Petter Ottersen visited the Department of Public Health Sciences during his tour of Karolinska Institutet (KI), two issues took centre stage – artificial intelligence and global health. He also opened the way for changes to the incentives system in order to strengthen education.

During the autumn, KI’s management will join new vice-chancellor Ole Petter Ottersen in visiting every department, in order to meet staff and students within the organisation. The Department of Public Health Sciences presented a number of research projects, as well as their students in the Master’s Programme in Global Health.

PhD student Nora Döring presented her research project “Primary Prevention of Childhood Obesity”, an attempt to identify methods and treatments for preventing childhood obesity. Studies carried out in the project demonstrated that those methods tested had failed to make any significant impact, and now researchers must follow up on why. Ole Petter Ottersen took the opportunity to emphasis the importance of also presenting negative research results.

“In general, negative data receives too little attention and it requires a degree of tenacity to get this type of data published,” said Ole Petter Ottersen.

Nora DöringNora Döring was pleased after the vice-chancellor’s visit.

"It feels very good that the vice-chancellor comes here and listens to us, and he makes us feel that the work we do in public health is important. It is also great that he has a clear picture of what to do, and is full of enthusiasm and energy, she says.

During the visit, Ole Petter Ottersen highlighted that KI is a university characterised by strong competition, and that the creation of a system of rewards for everyone working to strengthen, improve and contribute to teaching is one of the important issues that management needs to address.

"It is true, that the competition at KI is strong, but it is not necessarily a bad thing, but there also needs to be room for 'failed' research or rather null-results and time to explore the reasons behind it, if we are to make progress," Nora Döring says.

Global migration and the spread of TB

KI’s management also had the opportunity to look at postdoc Anna-Karin Danielsson’s research project on alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Knut Lönnroth, professor and senior physician, spoke about the effect of global migration on the spread of TB, and visiting professor Johan Lundin presented research on how artificial intelligence can simplify diagnosis and treatment globally.

Afterwards, the vice-chancellor reflected on the importance of ensuring access to data in healthcare and noted his appreciation of the department’s focus on the global perspective, especially bearing in mind KI’s strategic work aimed at 2030, in line with the timetable for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Discussion of the UN’s 17 SDGs continued during the vice-chancellor’s meeting with students from across the world participating in the Master’s Programme in Global Health. Goal number three, specifically dealing with good health and wellbeing, naturally falls within the scope of KI’s own vision, although Ole Petter Ottersen pointed out that all of the goals are linked to global health. The goals of eradicating poverty and hunger, along with the goal of achieving a world in which all people have access to clean water and sanitation, are indivisible.

Prithviraj Thumaiah Student and doctor Prithviraj Thumaiah from Mauritius trained in Pretoria and currently works in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. He acknowledged the UN goals but offered a reminder of the realty of the situation.

“Most of us will work with the SDGs in the future, but it is difficult for systems to change. How will we deal with systems that counteract our work?”

Ole Petter Ottersen’s replied that it will demand collaboration and alliances in order to succeed, and unexpected ones at that.

“As academics, everything we do must be based on scientific fact but for many of you, a political reality awaits,” he said. “In order to succeed where there is opposition we must build alliances, for example with NGOs but also with industry and the private-sector. Many companies today realise that, in future, it will no longer only be the ‘bottom line’ in their financial statement that counts.”

Text: Andreas Andersson