Mathematician Remco Duits has been awarded one of the largest personal academic grants in the Netherlands: the NWO Vici grant. Duits will use the 1.5 million euros he has been awarded to develop a better automatic image analysis method for enhancement and detection of complex vasculature in medical imaging. The grant is an investment in innovative research, and is intended for accomplished academics who want to establish their own research group.
Many medical images are assessed by computers. Often there are complex vascular structures in medical images, where blood vessels appear to be superimposed. Think, for example, of the blood vessels around the eyeball or near the heart. On a 2D X-ray, these vessels are often difficult to distinguish from each other. Automatic image analysis methods then sometimes wrongly connect blood vessels (see for example the middle picture below). A cardiologist navigating through a coronary artery with a catheter then runs the risk of not arriving at the site of, for example, the stenosis.
Remco Duits, a researcher at the Mathematics & Computer Science department at TU Eindhoven, is building a new analysis method that solves such problems generically. He is doing this by combining advanced geometry (accounting for local orientations of a blood vessel) and machine learning in a geometric learning framework that is widely applicable to many image processing and classification tasks. Duits: “The problem with machine learning is the enormous quantity of training images and the complexity that the system needs, without accounting for roto-translation equivariance. The problem with geometric image analysis is that it cannot be applied automatically. If you combine the two, you get an automatic system with a high level of performance, little computational workload and without the need for too many training images and too large network complexity.”
NWO: “Unique researcher with strong leadership skills”
The Vici committee is very pleased with Duits’ research proposal. They call the research ” relevant and important”. The committee is also “very positive about the fact that the research proposal combines aspects of (applied) mathematics, computer science and a range of applications.”
Especially the fact that Duits already has collaborations with medical specialists, and is seen as an established partner, the committee sees as a big plus. Furthermore, the committee states in its evaluation report that “the candidate is a unique researcher with strong leadership skills and excellent results, who undoubtedly belongs in the Vici program.”
Duits expresses his delight at his award and the accompanying excellent appreciations. “The grant enables the construction of a mathematical bridge between advanced differential geometry and applied deep learning methods. It thus provides deep geometric insight into neural networks and contributes to the improved analysis of complex blood vessels and to enhanced diagnosis of diseases such as diabetes and cancer. Thanks to this grant, I can build a new research team to develop new mathematical foundations for geometric learning and to realize crucial contributions to the applications.”, says Duits.
This year’s Vici grants awarded by NWO were announced on 14 April. Of the 287 applicants, 33 academics each received a grant of 1.5 million euros. The Vici is intended for very experienced researchers who have successfully demonstrated that they can develop their own innovative line of research and can act as a coach for young researchers. The funding offers the researcher the opportunity to establish his or her own research group, often in anticipation of a structural professorial position. Vici funding, together with the Veni and Vidi grants, is part of the NWO Talent Program (formerly the Innovational Research Incentive Scheme).