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Leonardo Ayala receives Helmholtz Doctoral Prize 2024

A multispectral imaging system developed by Leonardo Ayala at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) allows for the first time tissue perfusion to be monitored in real time during a minimally invasive surgery. The Helmholtz Association recognizes this excellent achievement and has awarded Leornardo Ayala the annual doctoral prize in the field of health.

Leonardo Ayala © DKFZ/Jung

Each year, the Helmholtz Association awards the doctoral prizes in each of its six research fields to young scientists who have completed their doctorate at a Helmholtz Center and achieved outstanding results. Leonardo Ayala, this year's award winner in the field of health, conducted research in the DKFZ's Intelligent Medical Systems division under the supervision of Lena Maier-Hein. Ayala received the award for developing a new type of multispectral imaging system that can be used during laparoscopic operations to monitor the content of blood in tissues.


The individual tissues in the body differ in numerous features like oxygen and blood content, or the concentration of water or other biological molecules. Healthy tissue differs from diseased tissue in some of these properties. These tissue properties can provide the surgeon with important additional information during an operation. Multispectral imaging takes advantage of the fact that the different tissue components have unique optical properties that can be visualized in high spatial resolution.


The system developed by Ayala and colleagues has the unique ability to monitor tissue perfusion during surgery. Previously, surgeons had to rely solely on what they could see "with their own eyes", which sometimes proved inadequate. Contrast agents, on the other hand, complicate the procedure.


Leonardo Ayala and his collaborators pioneered the use of deep learning techniques to extract data-driven information on tissue perfusion from multispectral image data. He designed, organized and led a clinical trial to demonstrate the clinical value of this novel imaging method in monitoring blood flow for the first time. The method was used in patients undergoing laparoscopic partial kidney removal - a procedure in which perfusion of the tissue plays a particularly critical role.


The procedure developed by Ayala's team has already led to several patent applications.


Leonardo Ayala studied Physics at the University of El Salvador and at the Instituto Balseiro in Argentina. After completing his doctorate, he continues his research as a postdoc in the laboratory of Lena Maier-Hein. The award winners receive prize money of 5,000 euros. In addition, they receive either a travel and material allowance for a research stay abroad of up to 12,000 euros or a Helmholtz Field Study Fellowship of up to three months. The Field Study Fellowship funds the market exploration phase in order to better understand customer needs.


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