Advanced AI technology brings new opportunities

2018-11-12

Behrooz Torabi Moghadam and Manfred Grabherr.

Denapsis Artificial Intelligence develops tools for machine learning with considerably smaller data sets than ever before possible. The founders of the company, Manfred Grabherr and Behrooz Torabi Moghadam, hope it will be possible to use the innovation to improve cancer diagnostics and treatment.

Manfred Grabherr is a researcher with the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, and Behrooz Torabi Moghadam with the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology.  Both were originally engineers, but  have been working with bioinformatics for a long time.

“We have been working in the life sciences for many years now, but we both have a technical background. As a result, we understand medical data and can craft solutions that work,” says Grabherr.

“That’s precisely it, we don’t see medical data as only numbers. We have been involved in processes where we have built up large databases containing genetic information, for example, that allow us to analyse molecular biological data,” says Moghadam.

AI technology, programming computers to understand and solve problems independently, is in a developmental surge. It is usually easiest for an AI program to learn if it can practise on massive numbers of examples, each of which can be described with relatively few parameters. But in medicine, the situation is often the reverse - there is a small number of patient cases, where each case contains large amounts of data that can be interpreted in various ways. It is here that Grabherr and Moghadam’s innovation is meant to make a difference.

“We have developed several applications for clinical settings. Right now, we are working on a tool to identify sub-types of cancer for a major customer. In a nutshell, you could say that we are taking the advantages of AI to precision medicine. The actual innovation is that we have managed to cut the number of examples the program has to ‘see’ down to a couple of thousand,” explains Grabherr.

Grabherr and Moghadam received glowing feedback on their ideas from the medical community at an AIM day on precision medicine in 2017.  They had their first customer before they even set up their company.

The founders of Denapsis Artificial Intelligence say they have always worked well together. There is no clear separation between their working and personal lives. Both are interested in art and music and enjoy spending time together. It is also easy for them to see each other’s mistakes and talk about them. And they love to solve difficult problems and want to create something new.

“I would say we have an engineering perspective, something like when you are building a bridge. The bridge has to be finished at some point,” says Grabherr.

Moghadam also emphasises the ambition to do something that is important to other people.

“I decided to leave the telecom industry to work in the life sciences for several reasons. One of them was losing a friend to cancer. I am passionate about developing something that can contribute to better diagnostics and treatment of serious diseases.

The staff of Denapsis Artificial Intelligence also includes someone whose focus is business development. Essentially, that involves finding more customers so that the company can grow and take on more engineers. The knowledge the company is developing can be applied in other fields in addition to medicine. One upcoming project involves navigation systems for drones.

“No doubt, this is a super-exciting time,” says Manfred Grabherr, and Behrooz Torabi Moghadam nods in agreement.

What support have you received from UU Innovation?

Manfred:
“They have supported us wholeheartedly all the way - it is a fantastic organisation for people like us! At the AIM day we participated in, we were introduced to potential customers and stakeholders and they have given us support in relation to business development and legal matters. UU Innovation have also always been easily available and if we were unable to meet face-to-face, we have met over Skype. We have also received economic support for things like engaging legal expertise in connection with writing contracts.

Behrooz:
“I also participate in UU Innovation’s Mentor4Research programme, where we are able to learn more in-depth about taking new solutions and research to the market. It’s a great programme.”

Read more about Denapsis Artificial Intelligence on the company's website.

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