Dr Pantelis Natsiavas discusses the role of CERTH within MyPal.

Can you tell us a little about the work and history of the department?

The Institute of Applied Biosciences of the Centre for Research and Technology Hellas (INAB|CERTH) was established in its current form in 2014, aiming to address the gap between research excellence in Life Sciences and applications that meet end-user demands. To this end, the eHealth Lab was founded by late Vassilis Koutkias (the main MyPal proposal author and first MyPal coordinator) in 2016. As a whole, INAB|CERTH is mostly comprised of biologists, biochemists and medical doctors, but it also includes a very active team of IT engineers working on eHealth projects.

What is the department’s role on the project? (What does this involve?)

INAB|CERTH coordinates the MyPal project as a whole and its contribution focuses on two key issues: (a) the coordination of the MyPal clinical studies, (b) the successful integration of the many technical partners’ contributions and (c) project management in terms of administrative support for all the partners of the MyPal consortium. Given the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this coordination process is far from trivial but thanks to the good will of all the partners, INAB|CERTH’s work is a lot easier.

Have you done work on any other previous projects involving digital health? Can you tell us a little bit about these?

Digital health is one of INAB|CERTH’s top priorities and it is actually the focus of eHealth lab. To this end, we work on and coordinate a range of eHealth projects both nationally and international (mostly EU-funded projects). Our main activities include (a) drug safety and pharmacovigilance using Knowledge Engineering approaches, (b) analytics for public health monitoring and (c) information security and systems’ usability. We also actively develop and maintain a national registry of patients with pulmonary conditions, collecting data of more than 4000 patients from 19 clinical sites across Greece.

How did the department come to coordinate the MyPal project?

It all started with Vassilis Koutkias’ and Kostas Stamatopoulos’ idea of leading an eHealth intervention which could provide some real-life impact, focusing on cancer patients. Vassilis and Kostas assembled a consortium focusing on technical, clinical and scientific excellence, and managed to coordinate a successful proposal in the Horizon 2020 framework, and as such INAB|CERTH emerged as the consortium’s coordinator.

What are your hopes for MyPal?

I would identify two key issues: (a) MyPal providing real-world impact for cancer patients, thus, proving that eHealth could play an important role in palliative care and beyond, and (b) MyPal setting up a new paradigm for the clinical validation of eHealth software and applications. Typically, such applications are developed and maintained with no reference to clinical studies and impact on real-world patients and healthcare professionals. As MyPal is one of the very few projects evaluating a technical solution via clinical studies, I hope that this could be influential for other eHealth projects too.

What do you think are the greatest challenges the project has faced so far, and how do you think they might be overcome?

Inevitably, the COVID-19 pandemic raised some risks. Beyond the typical disturbance caused on all aspects of social and economic life, healthcare services were severely affected due to the heavy demands of increased hospitalizations, leading to an inevitable disturbance to all domains of clinically related activities, including research clinical studies. As such, patient recruitment was severely affected and therefore we had to process alternative plans (both in terms of technical and operational aspects) and adapt them for each clinical partner. As a whole, it seems that due to MyPal consortium’s great flexibility and tremendous work, the project is on track to achieve its goals.