Crossing scientific borders

The Kiel-based research and development project BlueHealthTech starts its implementation phase with federal funding of €15 million. Co-organiser Carsten Schultz, Professor of Technology Management, examines how new knowledge emerges at the interfaces of completely different professions.

Aerial view of the university campus at Olshausenstraße
© Marvin Radke,

Four faculties at Kiel University are involved in the BlueHealthtech project.

Problems can arise when researchers from very different disciplines, such as medicine, marine research, natural sciences, economics and engineering, work together. “Normally they have almost nothing to do with one another, they use different technical languages and there is no culture of cooperation and no basis for efficient scientific exchange,” said Professor Carsten Schultz from the Institute of Business and the Institute for Innovation Research at Kiel University. Explaining why he finds areas of friction like these particularly interesting, he said: “Innovations emerge at the interfaces of completely different areas of knowledge.” According to Schultz, this is a creative process that enriches science and can ultimately promote economic development in the region.

In the case of BlueHealthTech, the new knowledge is to be incorporated into concrete medical-technical and pharmaceutical products and processes that benefit patients. “Ideally, research results will also lead to the founding of start-ups, as we have already seen with the successful establishment of Osteolabs GmbH,” reported the innovation researcher. The aim of the interdisciplinary alliance of healthcare, industry and science is to harness potential from marine research for concrete application in medicine and life sciences. In September 2021, BlueHealthTech received a significant boost: it secured a place in the funding programme Innovation and structural change / WIR! with 22 other projects from all across Germany. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research will provide the alliance with €15 million over the next six years.

The main project partners alongside Kiel University are the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH) and the medical technology company Stryker Trauma GmbH (Schönkirchen bei Kiel), the market leader in the development and manufacture of intramedullary devices for surgery. “Primarily with regard to improving the treatment of chronic diseases, we see great opportunities in our multi-disciplinary approach,” explained Professor Schultz. The great diversity of knowledge is to be utilised in new partnerships. “For this purpose, we plan to develop innovative projects that cross borders between disciplines and implement them in the region.”

Four Kiel University faculties are currently participating in this: the Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences (Pharmacy, Physics and Biology), the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences. Numerous partners from industry and other regional research institutions are also involved. Which of the 26 submitted applications are to be implemented as actual individual projects is currently being decided by the international experts who make up the BlueHealthTech advisory committee. The scientific implementation phase is to start in 2022, announced Professor Schultz, who is a member of the BlueHealthTech steering group alongside spokesperson for the alliance Professor Anton Eisenhauer (GEOMAR), Andrea Eickmeier (UKSH) and Dr Nils Reimers (STRYKER).

In concrete terms, this phase will investigate issues such as how seaweed can be used to treat chronic diseases. The researchers are also set to make advances in trace element analysis, sensor technology and image data evaluation for the diagnosis of diseases as well as in the digitalisation of processes. According to Schultz, this should lead to considerable improvements in quality for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of various chronic diseases like osteoporosis.

In addition, a team led by Professor Schultz at the Institute for Innovation Research plans to develop methods by which completely different professions can work together creatively and at the same time efficiently. These will be based on a better understanding of how ideas are generated across wide cognitive distances. “We also want to develop instruments to predict scientific and technological convergences – so that we can look a little further into the future in order to support strategic development in BlueHealthTech as well as in research and development in general.”

Author: Joachim Welding