After a Tumultuous Year, Tehnopol’s Connected Health Cluster Prepares to Support More Research Projects in 2021
Tehnopol is working hard to develop many important sectors in Estonia. One outstanding example of this is Estonia’s Connected Health cluster, which Tehnopol manages. The cluster’s ecosystem includes startups, healthcare providers, IT companies, and R&D partners from universities. Justin Petrone from Research in Estonia gives us an overview of how the last year went for the innovative cluster.
The past year presented unprecedented challenges for researchers in Estonia and companies cooperating with them, and Tehnopol‘s experience fit the norm. However, the science and business park, the largest in the Baltics, has adjusted to meet these new conditions and is spearheading some new international projects this year.
“2020 was a year of rapid development for us,” said Piret Hirv, head of the Connected Health cluster and health technology division at Tehnopol. “The crisis in healthcare delivery has certainly increased the need for innovation in healthcare,” she said. “I promise that this momentum will not disappear and in 2021 will move even faster.”
One new healthcare project is IN-4-AHA, which stands for Innovation Networks for Scaling Active and Healthy Ageing. The EU-backed effort commences this month and is funded through the end of 2022 with a total budget of close to €2 million. The project will support the ongoing European Innovation Partnership in Active and Healthy Ageing, an initiative launched by the European Commission to promote innovation and digital transformation in regards to active and healthy aging.
In its leadership position, Tehnopol will be overseeing the cross-border scale-up of tested and ready-to-use applications to support the project, which involves small- and medium-sized enterprises and larger firms, as well as health care institutions and research institutes. The focus of the project is to improve innovation at the local and EU levels, and to enable innovators to devise more user-centered strategies and solutions. Potential outcomes could be smarter homes for older or chronically ill people. The project also focuses on refining investment strategies to support such digital solutions.
Given the nascent status of the project, Hirv said she could not further elaborate on the aims of IN-4-AHA at this time, but described it as a significant project for the science and business park, noting that Tehnopol will host “many seminars and roundtables” connected to it in 2021.
Other projects planned
Yet it’s just one project underway that involves Tehnopol. There are others in the pipeline that will draw upon its resources, including the Estonian Connected Health cluster, which Tehnopol also manages. The cluster is a health innovation ecosystem that includes startups, such as those housed within Tehnopol’s Startup Incubator, healthcare providers, IT firms, and R&D partners at universities such as Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) and the University of Tartu.
Some envisioned projects include developing better treatment plans for diabetics using digital tools, as well as providing distance services in the provision of healthcare. There is also interest in further developing a consent service related to the retrieval of health data.
The concept of the bespoke service is to offer an electronic interface combined with a database where people can provide, view, and withdraw their consent. The data user, in turn, will be able to see the consent given to them for issuing data and the database will be able to check whether consent is given upon issuing personal data to data users. Tehnopol hosted a seminar about issues related to the service last year.
“Certainly the key word for 2021 is the piloting of the consent service in Estonia,” says Hirv. “This should ensure that third parties have access to health data in the future,” she says. The service in question has been developed in cooperation with the Estonian Information System Authority (RIA). “Our companies are already waiting and ready for piloting,” Hirv says.
The COVID-19 experience
Universities and university hospitals also play an important role in the Connected Health cluster and Tehnopol sees its role as both supporting innovative research and then creating pathways for their implementation. A close partner is the Estonian Genome Center at the University of Tartu, for instance. “They have carried out various clinical studies in cooperation with healthcare facilities, but they are also open to companies and research,” notes Hirv.
Triumf Health, a Tallinn-based startup based at Tehnopol has developed a mobile game to foster children’s health in collaboration with Tartu University Hospital. Specifically, the game supports the behavioral health of pediatric patients and features pathways for cancer, diabetes, asthma, surgery, and weight problems. “In response to the COVID-19, they also developed an extension to the platform to support all kids, irrespective of their current health situation,” notes Hirv.
Another partnership supported via Connected Health involved Dermtest, a Tallinn company that offers a digital toolbox for skin and woundcare, and enables access to healthcare professionals via a telehealth platform, which has come in quite handy during multiple COVID-19 related lockdowns.
“Nurses and practitioners get digital tools for treatment and e-consulting with another specialist and getting information on the patient. All images are preserved for high quality care provision, patient pathway coverage, and available for further treatment any time,” notes Dermtest co-founder and CEO Priit Kruus.
Last year, Dermtest partnered with East-Tallinn Central Hospital to develop a module for Dermtest that will aid in managing patients with skin conditions. The goal of the project was to create a tool to allow doctors to get an overview of patients’ skin condition in a contactless way to support telehealth visits with high quality images.
“It was a chapter in the ongoing story called ‘the COVID-19 experience,’” says Kruus of the partnership.
This year the work should continue. Kruus said Dermtest will likely partner with Connected Health cluster partner Tartu University Hospital to advance a new module for psoriasis management – helping doctors to gather information on the complex disease course, and to correlate images with disease severity scores and patient questionnaire scores to select treatment regimens.
Written by: Justin Petrone
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This article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.