press information / news


Fabian Theis is awarded the Hamburg Science Prize 2021

The Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Hamburg is honouring Fabian Theis as a pioneer in the field of Artificial Intelligence in biomedical applications, above all in the area of single-cell biology.

© Astrid Eckert, Technische Universität München

As Director of the Institute of Computational Biology at Helmholtz Zentrum München Fabian Theis uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data to answer biomedical questions. With his research, he has made an essential contribution to the development of innovative biomedical AI-based methods. Fabian Theis is a leader in his field not just in Germany, but worldwide. He is one of the few researchers whose discoveries have led directly to clinical applications, for example in the treatment of skin diseases or of diabetic retinopathy. For the automated diagnosis of this eye disease, the research group around Theis in collaboration with the Eye Clinic of the Munich University Hospital and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) developed a screening algorithm that was published in 2020. It needs 75 percent fewer annotated data, i.e. data with specialist annotations, and is able to carry out diagnoses at the same level of performance as experts. “The limited availability of annotated data is a major challenge for medicine,” Theis stressed. “We have therefore made it our goal to develop methods that require less data and which are therefore suitable for clinical use.”

“Fabian Theis applies AI across biomedical research, healthcare and precision medicine. He has successfully demonstrated the enormous value of AI-based technologies in a number of applications and thus has fulfilled the expectations of AI in medicine: to reform prevention, diagnostics and therapy and to open the way to the medicine of the future.” This was the comment of the Chair of the Jury and President of the Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Hamburg, Edwin J. Kreuzer. “With the Hamburg Science Prize 2021 we honour his pathbreaking work in the field of AI in biomedical applications, above all in the area of single-cell biology.”

„Fabian Theis is a pioneer for Artificial Intelligence in biomedicine. He drives the transformation of future medicine by his discoveries and inventions into the direction of predictive and preventive medicine,” stated Matthias Tschöp, CEO at Helmholtz Zentrum München. “His exceptional capabilities in research, his high interdisciplinary approaches as well as his groundbreaking applications have been established him as leading visionary mind within the biomedical research area.”

“The use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in medicine offers the opportunity to improve the diagnosis and therapy of diseases,” said Hamburg’s First Mayor Peter Tschentscher, the Patron of the Hamburg Science Prize. “In Fabian Theis the Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Hamburg is honouring an exceptional scientist, who is a leader in the field of bio-informatics and whose research has made possible major advances in the clinical use of AI-based systems. I congratulate Fabian Theis very warmly on the Hamburg Science Prize 2021 and wish him on-going great success in his research and in the planned collaboration with the University Medical Research Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE).“

The Prize-winner
Fabian Theis studied Mathematics and Physics at the University of Regensburg. After graduating with degrees in both subjects, he earned one doctorate at the University of Regensburg in Physics and another a year later in Computer Science at the University of Granada. As a postdoc he was, among other things, Bernstein Fellow at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics a Self-Organisation in Göttingen. In 2008 Theis gained his “Habilitation” in Biophysics at the University of Regensburg. From 2007 to 2013 he headed the Working Group “Computational Modeling in Biology” at the Helmholtz Zentrum München and was Associate Professor in the Mathematical Faculty of the TUM.

In 2013, Theis, born in 1976, took over the leadership of the Institute of Computational Biology at the Helmholtz Zentrum München and has since then held the Chair of Mathematical Modelling of Biological Systems at the TUM. In addition, Fabian Theis is Scientific Director of the Helmholtz Artificial Intelligence Cooperation Unit (Helmholtz AI) of the Helmholtz Association and founded the Munich School for Data Science, which decisively strengthens support for younger scientists in the area of Data Science.

His research has been honoured with numerous awards. Thus, for example, Theis was part of an interdisciplinary team that was awarded the Erwin Schrödinger Prize, the Stiferverband Science Prize, for new methods that make it possible to describe cell populations in a more differentiated way and to predict the development of individual blood cells.

Theis works as Adjunct Faculty at Northwestern University in the USA und as Associate Faculty at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK. He is involved in leading roles in various research initiatives and networks, such as, since 2017, the Human Cell Atlas Initiative.
The prize money from the Hamburg Science Prize will be used by Theis for a cooperation project with the UKE in the area of Deep Learning.

The Hamburg Science Prize
The Hamburg Science Prize 2021 was dedicated to the topic “Artificial Intelligence in Medicine.” So-called Artificial Intelligence and its subfield Machine Learning are of great importance in many sectors. Especially in Medicine and Medical Technology it is expected that Machine Learning will be able to make an important contribution to caring for people medically in a more individual way. Above all in healthcare great opportunities are seen in using Machine Learning to maintain and care for health in better and more cost-effective ways. The paramount aim is to support doctors in their decision-making on diagnosis and treatment, and the power to decide continues to lie with the doctor. Machine Learning supplements human thought. The Jury received seven nominations. Those nominated were proposed by universities and, especially, university hospitals in Germany and abroad.

The prize is endowed by the Hamburgische Stiftung für Wissenschaften, Entwicklung und Kultur Helmut und Hannelore Greve. It  will be awarded on 12 November 2021 in the Hamburg Rathaus under the auspices of the First Mayor of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.