Behind-the-Scenes of the BERTI program

IMG_1795_REAfter graduating in Biomedical Engineering, Pedro Gomez moved from Mexico to Munich, Germany, to get his Masters in Biomedical Computing. Since September 2014, he has been working as young researcher in the BERTI program- “Biomedical Imaging & Informatics – European Research and Training Initiative,” a European Union (EU) funded program that enables young researchers to broaden their scientific horizons. It is modeled on collaborative innovation, which mirrors the network of academic institutions that are at the core of healthcare activities within GE’s European Research Centre. We asked Pedro about his experience:

What are your personal expectations from the BERTI program?
One of the things that caught my attention when I looked at BERTI was the interdisciplinary approach. Through BERTI, you gain access to a big network of partners, experts and resources in industry, academia, and entrepreneurship. This kind of exposure would benefit the work of any researcher.

How has the BERTI program helped you in reaching your goals?
BERTI students participate in many trainings, aimed at broadening your communication, networking and other soft skills. It is a comprehensive program that has helped me push my boundaries on many levels- not just the scientifically. BERTI has helped me and my colleagues to get ready for a successful career in science.

What is the focus of your current work?
The focus of the program is on developing quantitative methods for neuro-imaging. Today, there is almost no quantitative information available in neuro radiology. For example, if a patient has a tumor in the brain, the doctor will make a diagnosis based on his/her experience without being able to quantify it. We are developing methods that will help doctors make a better diagnosis earlier and more efficiently.

What are the biggest challenges in your work?
One challenge of BERTI – and I would argue that it is also an opportunity – is the number of people that are involved. It can complicate the dynamics as there are more and different interests at play. It is a challenge that I personally enjoy. If you want to move your project forward, you have to build relationships with experts from different fields and be able to convince critical stakeholders. This is how this program differs from your typical PhD program where you have one supervisor and you concentrate on one defined topic.

You are more than half-way through the program. Can you take a quick look back and look forward for us?
Last year, we had a very successful mid-term review. The first two years were focused on training and learning about extremely specific subjects. This last year will be all about turning that training into results. It is exciting because we are now starting to communicate the results of that hard work.

Where did you spend your secondment?
During my secondment, I worked at a Research Center in Cardiff, Wales, with Professor Derek Jones. It was a great time to be there because he just opened a new neuro-imaging center, where I worked on clinical research. With the goal of quantifying diseases, we incorporated the technical developments from the past two years and installed them on a GE scanner to run a clinical trial with multiple sclerosis patients. It is our hope to get a lot of information out of this study and to use this critical data to improve the diagnosis of this disease.

What is your advice for graduates aiming for further academic qualification in biomedical imaging?
Firstly, be proactive. Things don´t just happen! You need to talk to people – including patients – to see how you can use your skills to develop something that can really make a difference.

Secondly, remember that biomedical imaging is a very interdisciplinary field. I work in labs with researchers with a background in chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, and neuroscience. This is one of the things I like the most but it also requires me to have a basic understanding of the different fields to enable collaboration and progress.

How would you describe the collaboration between an academic lab, industrial research environment and a patient for the success of your work?
I think BERTI offers a lot of opportunities which many other researchers don´t have. And this collaborative nature of approaching problems is one of them.

What makes working with GE as industrial partner special?
GE has an incredible market-driven approach to solving problems. Edison probably laid the foundation for this when he said: “I first find out that the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it”. I don’t always see this kind of thinking in academia.

Similarly, at the GE Research Center, researchers are tackling big technical problems and turning turn them into solutions for people that need them. In the field of biomedical imaging, this means being able to diagnose a tumor before it becomes dangerous.

Another thing I love about GE is the network of +300,000 employees. As a BERTI participant, I feel part of this network and that is really special.