ESNR preview: An interview with Prof. dr. Marion Smits, congress president of ESNR 2018

Connecting experience to the new generation of radiology

An interview with Prof. dr. Marion Smits, congress president of ESNR 2018

Set in her office in the new building of Erasmus MC Rotterdam, I meet with Prof. dr. Marion Smits, principal investigator of applied physiological neuroimaging at the Alzheimer Centre and the Brain Tumour Centre, (Erasmus MC), and this year’s president of the European Society of Neuroradiology (ESNR) conference. As a renowned diagnostic neuroradiologist and researcher she is heavily involved in research on imaging of the human brain with an emphasis on neuro-oncology, aphasia and dementia. In this context she collaborates with many clinicians, both nationally and internationally, making her the perfect candidate for the presidency of the ESNR 2018.  

Still busy with preparations Prof. Smits is eagerly looking forward to the conference. “Preparations are going well, most things are arranged by now. The full scientific program was already finalized a year ago and the ESNR team has of course been working very hard over the past year to get everything ready. I am happy to say that currently we can mainly focus on extras, such as a charity lottery for the Neurosurgery, Education and Development foundation. This charitable organization operates in Eastern Africa and focuses on education and training, a very good fit with the ESNR!”

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Diving into the future of radiology fueled by AI

At this year’s meeting Prof. Smits recognizes technological innovation as an overarching theme. Within the realm of image acquisition as well as image processing a lot of content is linked to machine learning and other advanced analysis methods. There is a session about value based imaging discussing how new technologies, like smart reporting, should be applied to add most value. The Advanced Course fully focuses on new imaging technologies, and the pre-symposium is not without reason called “hospital of the future”. It will be all about “what can we expect in 10 to 20 years?”

Diving deeper into the attention for new technologies, I ask Prof. Smits what role artificial intelligence will play during the ESNR. “The program includes multiple lectures on machine learning, which partly focus on giving an introductory overview of artificial intelligence. Not because we think people do not know anything about it, but there is so much development going on and there are so many new terms. This could lead to misunderstandings because people are confused about whether you should call something machine learning or artificial intelligence or yet another term. Therefore we decided to provide a basic overview of artificial intelligence.”

“Additionally, neuroradiologists tend to be more technology focused than the average physician. We really want to understand how things work. I think it is very important for neuroradiologists to have a clearer idea of what we can expect from AI. Currently there is a strong focus on automated diagnostics, but in my opinion there is a lot to be gained by improving logistic processes in a smart way, for example by automatically detecting artefacts and initiating a restart of a scan if needed. In addition, this could create a lot of good will amongst radiologists for further implementation of AI application. If this first step is successful, people will be more willing to actively participate in the next steps and have more confidence in the technology.”

Marion Smits gets a twinkle in her eyes when discussing the potential of artificial intelligence applied to the field of radiology. “Most fascinating will be when we can go beyond what we can do now. Research focuses for the largest part on mimicking what radiologists do. However, it will be incredibly exciting if we can achieve things we are not able to do with our human mind. Using all information available to get to a diagnosis. If you ask me what I would consider to be the holy grail of radiology, this would be it.”

During the lunch session on Saturday September 22nd Quantib will organize a lecture ‘Artificial intelligence in neuroradiology: from research to clinical application’. Prof. Wiro Niessen, Professor of the Biomedical Imaging Group Rotterdam, will be the speaker together with Arthur Post Uiterweer, CEO of Quantib. They will elaborate on how to apply AI to neuroradiology and what kind of practical applications the neuroradiologist can expect in the nearby future.

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A conference like you have not seen it before

This year’s ESNR will be the 41st edition of the conference. Of course there will be a lot of attention for recurring themes such as stroke, dementia and brain tumors. Curious for what kind of personal twist Prof. Smits would like to give to the ESNR 2018, I ask her how the conference will differ from previous editions. The first thing she mentions is the effort she put into creating an line-up of original speakers. “I have really tried to identify new, sometimes lesser known speakers as lecturers. My focus was on creating a combination of on one side big names, inspiring people through experience sharing, such as Gabriel Krestin who will open the conference in a very special way. On the other side, I wanted to create a stage for younger, upcoming talents.”

Integration and the facilitation of the discussion fueling this was a second priority. “Traditionally sessions are organized around one subject, for example brain tumors. Everybody with an interest in brain tumors will attend this session, but probably most attendees will be familiar with 99% of the information. In this way, you do not hear a lot about other subjects. Therefore I have taken a different approach by searching for overarching themes which can be discussed in the context of different specialties. For example, a session on quantification will address tumor quantification, dementia quantification and other applications. Covering different perspectives within one session will encourage people with different specialties to actively participate, where normally they would not engage in a dialogue that easily.”

Prof. Smits emphasizes that there is a lot physicians can learn through cross-pollination between different specialties. To enable interaction most sessions contain a discussion slot. Prof. Smits: “For the scientific sessions on broader subjects we have invited key speakers who will present an introductory overview of the field and guide the discussion. In this way we aim to connect physicians who are already an expert in the field to attendees that have less knowledge on a specific subject. Additionally, our cross talk session covering several intervention radiology topics approaching them from a diagnostic radiologist point of view, aims to bridge the gap between the different specialties. Understanding how interventional radiologists treat questions such as ‘which shape of aneurysm leads to a certain decision?’ can be of great benefit to their diagnostic colleagues as well.”

Another core component of the ESNR 2018 is inspiration. “I have really pushed for inspirational, interactive talks in which lecturers also share their own experiences. All keynote lectures are given by top notch speakers of whom I am very happy they accepted our invitation. They really have a story to tell based on their extensive experience. Another lecture I am very excited about is the opening talk by dr. Hanna Knoppel, a young Estonian radiologist. She will share a beautiful story with us on the link between art and neuroradiology. It is a very inspiring story, which she tells in a very passionate way.”

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… and a busy 2019 to follow

Looking beyond ESNR Prof. Smits expects a busy 2019. “During fall the ESMRMB congress will be held, also in Rotterdam. As I am the vice president during the conference, I will be heavily involved as well. We will be focusing on three main themes of which machine learning will be one. After the congress I will be president of the ESMRMB and of course my oration is next year, so yes, 2019 is quite packed already!” Prof. Smits concludes with a smile. “But first the ESNR. I really hope people will leave Rotterdam inspired by everything they experienced. By all the lectures, the speakers, the interactions, not to forget the social events, and of course by the surroundings, by Rotterdam!”

 

Interested in Prof. Smits’ research? Read more in our blog on automated oligodendroglioma classification.

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