Strengthened research capacity thanks to 3.4 million euro for laboratories and a Data Centre
A Computer and a Chemical Laboratory in Brescia for the acquisition and processing of large quantities of clinical and health data, with the development of advanced diagnostic and therapeutic systems, and molecules useful for early diagnosis and the treatment of neurodegenerative and oncological diseases. What is more, a new Data Centre with high performance computing in Pavia, enabling it to become a point of reference, also on a European scale, for applications of Artificial Intelligence techniques for interpreting extreme events and forecasting climate change impact.
These are the main and real implications of the two Cooperation Agreements recently signed between the Lombardy Region and the University of Brescia and the IUSS - School for Advanced Studies in Pavia.
The centrepiece of the two Agreements totalling 3.4 million euro is Big Data, which is taking more and more of a lead in the field of research and innovation.
“This is a fundamental contribution for our Universities,” explained Fabrizio Sala, Councillor for Education, University and Research, “which allows them to increase all existing technologies and innovations, with a positive impact in terms of research and competitiveness that will benefit our students and lecturers”.
The Region gives support to eight public universities
The two agreements were approved by the Regional Government in its session on 22 March, on the proposal of Councillor Sala, and fall within the sphere of the “Cooperation Agreements for research, innovation and technological transfer” that Lombardy Region has concluded with eight public universities in Lombardy, guaranteeing them financing of 13.5 million euro, that is, approximately 1.7 million for each university.
As for previous Memorandums of Understanding with other universities, the Region aims to strengthen existing research facilities, examining the impacts they can have on the competitiveness of the Lombardy territory. The regional support will ensure coverage up to a maximum of 50% of the cost of planned actions.
Platforms of Medical Technologies and Innovative Chemistry in Brescia
In the case of Brescia, the Region’s contribution will cover half of the cost for the two actions proposed with the project entitled “Platforms of Medical Technologies and Innovative Chemistry” totalling 3,375,000 euro.
To increase its potential, the university first wants to leverage its strength in the integration between research in medicine and engineering which it has long cultivated, for example with the Doctoral programme in “Technology for Health”.
A first course of action of the Agreement with the Region will include the creation of a technological platform that acquires, archives, and processes a high volume of clinical data (laboratory, X-ray images, endoscopies, microscopies, genomic data) and biometric data for the development of diagnostic, therapeutic and simulation systems.
These data will be processed by researchers for their studies through algorithms and techniques based on Artificial Intelligence.
In addition, wearables will also be purchased to combine with the computing platform, as well as Virtual and Augmented Reality tools to simulate actual clinical scenarios.
“Artificial Intelligence,” Sala emphasised, “is the technology receiving the most investment by companies around the world, and the fact that these data are available to our students and researchers propels us to do everything to further this innovation within the Universities, which are the beating heart of scientific research and higher education”.
The second course of action laid down in the Agreement with the University of Brescia focuses instead on the creation of a new Chemistry Laboratory, thanks to the renovation of a pre-existing structure and the purchase of innovative equipment, with the objective of developing new molecules for the diagnosis and the treatment of acute and chronic illnesses.
Specifically, nanotechnological and biocompatible products will be developed in the Chemical Laboratory for the identification of disease markers that enable the early diagnosis of progressive diseases, including rare diseases, and neurodegenerative and oncological diseases. This is in addition to new methods to be applied to the production of biopharmaceuticals (antibodies, messenger RNA, cDNA) and vaccines for the treatment and prevention of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.
“The financing by Lombardy Region,” states the Dean of the University of Brescia, Professor Maurizio Tira, “supports our efforts to see through the project of creating research laboratories in the medical and engineering fields, by developing activities where medicine benefits from technological innovations in the field of simulation, the treatment of Big Data, biotechnologies and chemistry. Medical simulation is also a system of interactive training, based on the use of innovative training methods inserted within the context of a realistic clinical scenario. Simulator training courses will allow the acquisition of some competencies before entry into healthcare settings, which will be met with a higher degree of awareness and preparation”.
Pavia, Big Data in support of basic, applied, and industrial research
The Agreement with the IUSS School of Advanced Studies in Pavia focuses instead on the construction of a Data Centre, for research projects in the area of Seismic Engineering and studies on Sustainable Development and climate change.
The new infrastructure will enable performance of computing and quantities of processed data of interest not only for the purposes of basic and applied research, but also for industrial applications, in addition to an improvement in the connectivity of the IUSS School with other research institutes in Lombardy.
Concluded Sala, “The link between research and the world of production is fundamental. Universities must function as a conduit with companies to develop innovative solutions and thus make an important impact on the economy of the territory”.
This research infrastructure will be installed at the Eucentre Foundation in spaces designated for the IUSS School and will offer capacities for computing and data management useful for simulating and interpreting complex phenomena in the field of Basic Sciences and Engineering.
Expressing satisfaction, the Dean of the IUSS School of Advanced Studies in Pavia, Riccardo Pietrabissa, had this to say: “The IUSS School has responded enthusiastically to the call of Lombardy Region which constitutes a clear example of cooperation among institutions to promote higher education and frontier scientific research as well as their impact to benefit society”. Added Pietrabissa, “With this investment, the IUSS School fortifies its role as a reference for Risk Engineering and studies on sustainability”.
A European and national point of reference
The new centre aspires to become a reference in Europe for applications of Artificial Intelligence techniques for the interpretation of extreme events and their mitigation, as well as the forecasting of climate change impact on atmospheric events and their consequences.
A special merit of this computing infrastructure is that it adds to an important ministerial financing for a National Doctorate in Sustainable Development and Climate Change (starting in 2021), which will see the participation of 30 Universities for 90 doctoral scholarships, constituting in Lombardy the core of this new and important national initiative.