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Inria Awards 2014

LH - 6/10/2014

Nicholas Ayache: Inria - French Académie des sciences Grand Prize 2014

Nicholas Ayache Inria / Photo Y. Obrenovitch

As an exceptional grade senior researcher at Inria, Nicholas Ayache is one of the most eminent researchers in the field of medical imaging analysis and simulation. He has cultivated a deep interest in industry and helped to create five start-up businesses. The common denominator in his various successes is a remarkable talent for teamwork and the development of skills around new ideas.

At the start of his higher education, Nicholas Ayache hesitated for a long time between scientific studies and medicine. He eventually opted for sciences, but a few years later he reconciled his favourite two fields in order to become a pioneer in a new field of research, that of computational medical imaging.
In computer science, Nicholas Ayache was initially interested in computer vision. He joined Inria in 1981 to write a thesis on the subject, his supervisor being Olivier Faugeras. For seven years, he designed autonomous robots with enhanced artificial vision (recognition of bulk objects, stereoscopic vision, navigation based on visual maps). He devised very original methods for comparing images and shapes which brought him into contact with the most brilliant scientific minds of the day, including Michael Brady, then a researcher at MIT.

Computational medical imaging

As from 1988, Nicholas Ayache created the alchemy in which he achieved such brilliance. He formed the Epidaure team, named in homage to the Greek city and its medical sanctuary. This pioneering medical research team stood at the crossroads of medical imaging, computer vision and robotics. He subsequently participated in the design of new medical image analysis systems, image-guided therapy and surgical simulation. This research led to the first systems enabling temporal follow-up of patients’ images, the fusion of medical images from various modalities, the introduction of enhanced reality for surgery and interventional radiology, as well as surgical simulation with visual feedback and force feedback. These represent a number of scientific advances that are revolutionising medicine, and surgery in particular.

Nicholas Ayache is thus considered to be one of the founders of computational medical imaging, contributing to its organization as the co-founder of the scientific journal Medical Image Analysis and the annual MICCAI – Medical Image Computing and Computer-Assisted Intervention – Conference which he chaired in Nice in October 2012.

A true leader

Nicholas Ayache, a true leader, knows how to gain loyalty and attract talent. “There is no such thing as research performed alone in isolation, and that is especially true of computational medical imaging, which requires a team of people with various skills, and clinical and industrial partners ”, he explains.
There was another instance of this in 2005 when he and his team launched Project Asclepios around the concept of the “virtual physiological patient”. The aim was, on the basis of a patient’s medical images and biophysical models of organs, to create a “personalised digital patient” for the purpose of assisting a physician in his/her medical practice for diagnosis, prognosis and even treatment.
Nicholas Ayache is able to share his enthusiasm with his partners in the medical profession. His team collaborates with three University Hospital Institutes (IHU) in Bordeaux, Paris and Strasbourg. In this last one, directed by Professor Jacques Marescaux, Nicholas Ayache serves as Chief Scientific Officer.

The other sphere to which he likes to devote his ideas is in the field of start-ups. “I have always had it in mind to retain some activity in industry and especially in start-ups whose particularly dynamic atmosphere I so enjoy” he confides, having participated in the creation of five high-tech enterprises. This has not prevented him from working with some of the biggest industries in medical imaging or software.

He is particularly proud of having supervised the doctoral research of sixty or so graduates who brilliantly defended their theses and he continues to supervise new doctoral candidates. “Most of them currently contribute to the advancement of computational medical imaging throughout the world, some have become eminent researchers, colleagues and friends”.

Nicholas Ayache is, above all, a researcher, considering that “Research is an international competition. If you want to have the right assets, you need to have a tightly knit team and people who work well together. All my colleagues, former and current, have played and continue to play a valuable role in the success of our projects, especially Hervé Delingette, Xavier Pennec, Maxime Sermesant and our assistant Isabelle Strobant with whom I work most closely today. Inria is an outstanding research institute which promotes the creation of such teams. The researchers are highly supported by very efficient services” . Having been awarded the Inria – French Académie des Sciences Grand Prize, Nicholas Ayache shows once again that he has strong assets with him!
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Testimony

Sir Michael Brady

Sir Michael Brady, Professor of Information Engineering at Oxford University

“I met Nicholas Ayache when he was preparing his thesis with Olivier Faugeras. The quality of his work exceeded expectations! I invited him to publish his Habilitation thesis through the MIT Press. The two research teams he created, Epidaure and Asclepios, are among the three most important laboratories in the world for research into the analysis and simulation of medical images. Nicholas is a brilliant researcher who has had considerable influence in the field through the flow of scientific ideas that he has generated and developed with his co-workers. He has a genuine talent for getting the best out of his teams. He is also the perfect leader who knows how to listen, explain and convince. He is a truly great individual who takes a deep interest in other people and builds friendly relations with his closest colleagues in the field”.

Keywords: Computational medical imaging Virtual patient IHU Software Start-up Inria Awards Medical imaging

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