Large-scale research project on medical sensors is extended

Heart and brain activity could be measured even more accurately with magnetic field sensors than it could using electric measurement procedures.
© Viktor Schell / Uni Kiel

German Research Foundation funds Collaborative Research Centre on medical diagnostics in Kiel with a further 12 million euros.

The German Research Foundation (DFG) announced today (Friday, 31 May) that it is extending funding for the Collaborative Research Centre 1261 “Magnetoelectric Sensors: From Composite Materials to Biomagnetic Diagnostics” at Kiel University (CAU) until 2028. 53 researchers from the fields of materials science, electrical engineering, physics and medicine will receive more than 12 million euros for the third phase of their interdisciplinary large-scale research project. Their aim is to develop highly sensitive magnetoelectric sensors to improve medical diagnostics, for example for heart or Parkinson’s disease.

Third funding phase on medical applications

Unsteady steps, slower movements, shaking hands – these are some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. It can make a difference whether these unusual movement patterns are recorded in a medical laboratory in a clinic or in the patient’s familiar environment. “Sensors that are used for measurements at home must be particularly simple and robust and, above all, provide reliable results,” says Gerhard Schmidt, Professor of Digital Signal Processing and spokesperson for the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1261. “This is just one of the new possible applications that our sensor technology opens up for medical diagnostics.” Other sub-projects in the CRC are looking at how the sensors can be used to avoid invasive procedures, such as locating cardiac arrhythmias, for example.

Interdisciplinary Sensor Research in Kiel is strengthened

“With the renewed funding approval, the DFG confirms the innovative potential of interdisciplinary research for major societal challenges such as health. The Executive Board congratulates the entire team and in particular the spokesperson Professor Gerhard Schmidt, on the continuation of the outstanding collaboration at the interface between medicine and engineering,” said Professor Eckhard Quandt, CAU Vice President for Research and Transfer, who successfully established the CRC as spokesperson in the first funding phase. The approval also strengthens the interdisciplinary sensor research in Kiel, which received a research and transfer hub last year with the Centre for Networked Sensor Systems on the campus of the Faculty of Engineering, as well as KiNSIS (Kiel, Nano Surface and Interface Science), one of the priority research areas of Kiel University.

Biomagnetic measurements – faster, clearer, more convenient

What is so special about the magnetoelectric sensors developed in the CRC SFB 1261 is that they do not measure electrical activity, such as the heartbeat in an ECG (electrocardiogram), but magnetic fields. They are generated in the body parallel to the electrical fields, but have a significantly better spatial resolution. While electrical signals can be distorted by the electrical conductivity of body tissue, biomagnetic signals remain unaffected and can even be measured without direct skin contact. Biomagnetic measurements therefore have the potential to be clearer, faster and more comfortable for patients.

However, biomagnetic signals are very weak and are easily disturbed by the environment. Until now, such measurements have had to be carried out at great expense in a cooled and shielded environment. In the CRC 1261, researchers from various disciplines are therefore working closely together to develop magnetoelectric sensors that are very sensitive and at the same time work reliably in a normal room environment.

Advancing international research on magnetic field sensors

Since the start of the DFG funding in 2016, the members of the CRC have compared different sensor concepts and materials, developed a suitable electronic setup for each and optimised the signal processing. For example, they were able to improve the sensitivity by a factor of 10. To date, the CRC has produced more than 200 scientific publications and international conference contributions as well as ten patent applications. “We are very pleased that we have been able to convince with our work so far. In the third funding phase, we now want to further develop the most promising concepts specifically for various medical applications,” says Schmidt. There are also plans to set up a start-up company. With the next extension, the project will reach the DFG’s maximum funding period of twelve years for collaborative research centres.

A key component of the large-scale research project is the structured training of young scientists. Currently, there are 25 doctoral candidates in the CRC programme. They have the opportunity to undertake international research stays, take part in an exchange programme with Pennsylvania State University, USA, and attend summer schools, mentoring programmes and training courses. Projects on research data management, outreach and gender equality are also an integral part of the CRC and will be further developed in the third phase.

In addition to Kiel University, the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH), the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Technology Itzehoe (ISIT), the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Kiel (IPN) and Heidelberg University are involved in the CRC 1261.

With the establishment of Collaborative Research Centres (SFB), the German Research Foundation (DFG) funds innovative, ambitious and long-term research projects to strengthen cutting-edge research at universities. The interdisciplinary co-operation projects are funded for a maximum of twelve years over three phases.

Wissenschaftliche Ansprechpartner:

Professor Dr.-Ing. Gerhard Schmidt
Spokersperson of the Collaborative Research Centre 1261 „Magnetoelectric Sensors: From Composite Materials to Biomagnetic Diagnostics“
Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (CAU)

Weitere Informationen: link to the press release Website of the CRC 1261 Website of the priority research area KINSIS at Kiel University

Media Contact

Pressestelle Uni Kiel Presse, Kommunikation und Marketing
Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

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