DigitalTwin4Health.BE, the first meeting of the Belgian ecosystem on digital twins, has been held in Leuven (Belgium) on 29th September 2023. The session was supported by BO SA – The Belgium Federal agency on Policy and Support.
The Belgian day on digital twins – hosted in the prestigious Promotion Hall of KU Leuven – included speakers from academia, industry, hospitals, regulatory agencies, and representatives of the federal government and the European Commission. The attendees included diverse stakeholders ranging from national and pan-European organisations to private citizens, who were keenly interested in how digital twins can contribute to healthcare in Belgium and beyond.
The proceedings began with the introduction by prof. Liesbet Geris (U Liege / KU Leuven / VPHi), who outlined what digital twins are and why and how the digital twins in healthcare are unique and complex.
The focus of the Belgian Twin day was set out, by emphasizing that technology developers from both academia and industry come together with policy makers and regulators at national and European level, to make a community effort, in order to bring Digital Twins in Healthcare to patients.
Dr. Frank Rademakers, clinician with distinguished experience of leading technology and innovation efforts at the Leuven University Hospital, gave an inspirational keynote on the importance of Medical Digital Twins, in a challenging context where diagnosis is based on limited information, predominantly reactive and hospital centric, and a growingly ageing population presenting multiple diseases. Digital twins could help shift the point of care from hospitals to individuals.
Specialists from academia and industry within Belgium, presented their DT4H examples that covered across scales from protein - cell – tissue - organ to all the way up to a Virtual Human Twin. The attendees also had the opportunity to watch and interact with live demos and posters on DT4H applications. Through such active engagements, the developments and products within the Belgian digital twin ecosystem were well showcased.
While the extraordinary DT4H examples showed tangible technological evolutions in the digital twins ecosystem, Ine Skottheim Rusten (U Namur) and Flora Musuamba Tshinanu (AFMPS / U Namur), shed light on the ongoing efforts to devise a question-centric approach for the decision support in regulatory assessment of medical products, including the digital twins.
The DigitalTwins4Health.BE meeting also had special guests from the Belgian Federal Government and the European Commission – DG-Connect H3.
Alexander Hoefmans, (Policy Cell of the Belgian State Secretary for Digitalisation) outlined opportunities to advocate transparency elements within the Digital Transformation during the Belgium’s upcoming EU presidency (Jan-June 2024) and the tough choices to regulate technological developments.
Kyriacos Hatzaras (DG-CNECT) emphasized on the Commission’s support of active research and infrastructure on Virtual Human Twin, to integrate models and data from different scale and disciplines at EU level. He also mentioned the initiatives of EDITH: Ecosystem of Digital Twins in Healthcare – a coordinate and Support Action that brings together all actors across member states.
The final session included representatives from all stakeholder categories discussing on the need for open and constructive exchanges between technology developers and the regulatory bodies. The EC representative took note of the misalignments and barriers that stakeholders face, while acknowledging the request for health sector specific engagement for policy developments around AI.
At the end of the day-long session on DigitalTwins4Health.BE, participants echoed a positive sense of getting to know on digital twin in healthcare. Collectively, the speakers and attendees shared tangible examples of pioneering digital twin initiatives and developments, across the healthcare domain. The meeting concluded with connections and opportunities to rally behind the Belgium ecosystem of Digital Twins in Healthcare.