Science finds gold in every land: About two teams from the start-up mansion in Dahlem that translate scientific findings into products using AI

14. January 2021

Science finds gold in every land

About two teams from the start-up mansion in Dahlem that translate scientific findings into products using AI

Laura Bücheler mit Prototyp-Weste © WISTA Management GmbH

Laura Bücheler demonstrating a prototype vest. This can be used, for example, to imitate the feeling of a hug or a cold shiver running down your spine. © WISTA Management GmbH

Tobias Seidl vom Start-up Nia Health © WISTA Management GmbH

Tobias Seidl of the start-up Nia Health © WISTA Management GmbH

An old German proverb says that a craft in hand finds gold in every land. At the start-up mansion in Dahlem, the teams of Nia Health GmbH and GHOST-feel it. GmbH are proving that the same goes for science. Both start-ups were launched at Charité university hospital and are now working on translating scientific findings into products.

In the complexity of everyday life, many information get lost. The teams of Nia Health GmbH and GHOST-feel it. GmbH are addressing this problem from two different perspectives. However, they have a lot more in common than having their headquarters at the start-up mansion in Dahlem.

Nia is the name of an app that helps patients with atopic dermatitis to better understand the intermittent skin disease as well as to systematically examine causes and triggers of flare-ups. The app is a certified medical product, based on the long-standing scientific work of specialised dermatologists and researchers at Berlin’s Charité Hospital. Some health insurance companies are now starting to cover the costs.

“This has resulted in more than 7,000 patients using our app,” says CEO Tobias Seidl. The app is based on the long-standing scientific work of specialised dermatologist and researchers at Berlin’s Charité Hospital and enables patients to continuously track their disease pattern with a dermatologically approved score.

Seidl founded Nia Health together with today’s technical officer Oliver Welter and chief medical officer Reem Alneebari. Alneebari is a dermatologist, who is affected by atopic eczema, because her daughter has it. She knows what it feels like to be a parent of children that have to deal with itchy eczema day and night. In desperate need for support, many go from doctor to doctor to try and ease their children’s symptoms.

The Nia app assists patients in systematically monitoring and tracking their disease, documenting flare-ups with photos, and thus provides treating doctors with facts to base therapeutic measures on. “This is very important because the disease pattern are highly individual as are the triggers for flare-ups,” says Seidl. Without systematic analysis, these triggers are easily overlooked in day-to-day life. Moreover, many patients seek advice online and are quickly overwhelmed by the vast amounts of generalised information for a very individual disease.

The founders of Ghost-feel it. GmbH also deal with navigating complex environments. One of these environments is the cockpit of a car, which has drivers easily distracted by displays, numbers, notifications, and auditive feedback. Another one affects passengers of self-driving cars who get nervous at every turn or brake event, or people with prosthetics who have to get by without the sense of touch in their missing limbs. It’s for cases like these that the team has developed a software that modulates vibration to smart, customisable feedback. It is based on Laura Bücheler’s and Isabella Hilmer’s expertise in neuroscience, sensor technology, and medical technology, which they have translated into intuitive vibration feedback with its own semantics.

The vibration can come from car seats that transmit information from the navigation system, or from self-driving cars announcing road turns and braking events. Prosthetics, too, can use electric impulses to direct sensor information to healthy body parts, which patients can then learn to interpret intuitively. Consequently, prosthetics manufacturers and carmakers are equally interested in this technology. To bolster its IT competencies, the Ghost-feel it. team has already grown to five employees. “We are now working on a software platform enabling customers to get straight into prototyping with hardware as well as the step-by-step optimisation of the vibration feedback systems,” says Bücheler. Supported by their mentor Tim Conrad, a biotechnologist and professor at Free University Berlin, they are exploring the potential of artificial intelligence for developing intuitively interpretable vibration patterns.

Nia Health is also exploring artificial intelligence, or AI. In cooperation with their mentor Doris Staab of Charité Hospital, the founders are transferring the decade-long research on atopic dermatitis into AI algorithms that are built to filter important information from diary entries and photos of eczema. “Our vision is that systems will soon be able to actively support patients and warn them about imminent flare-ups,” says Seidl. In addition, the team is working on making the Nia app available worldwide. “We are also transferring our expertise to create additional apps for diseases with similar patterns,” he says. One of these new apps, the Sorea app for psoriasis patients, has just been brought to market.

Both teams are growing – and are watching something else grow on the premises next door. The new technology and start-up centre FUBIC is being built right next to the start-up mansion in Dahlem. As soon as its move-in ready, it will be home to a new generation of start-ups proving that not only a craft in hand will find gold in every land, but science will too. By that time, Nia Health and GHOST- feel it. will probably have spread their wings.

By Peter Trechow for Potenzial – The WISTA Magazine

Potenzial: Start-ups (in German)
Potenzial – The WISTA Magazine. Edition: Start-ups 2021