Wiro Niessen

The human eye is still superior to computers



Wiro Niessen earned his PhD in Medical Image Analysis from Utrecht University in 1997. Subsequently, he became a Professor of Biomedical Image Analysis at Erasmus MC and at the Faculty of Applied Sciences at TU Delft. He was a member of the Young Academy of The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) from 2005 to 2010. He heads the Biomedical Image Analysis Platform of the European Organization for Imaging Research and he is Fellow and Executive Director of the Medical Image Computing and Computer Assisted Intervention Society. In 2012, he launched the Erasmus MC spin-off company Quantib, of which he is currently Scientific Director.


TU Delft: Imaging Science & Technology
Erasmus MC: Biomedical Imaging


Theme coordinator Imaging and Image guided Medicine
Technical scientific leader Medical Delta Imaging Institute

‘ Comparing brain scans using software enables the early detection of neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.’

Analysis of biomedical images

‘When I started here in 2005 – coming from Utrecht – I was immediately given a dual appointment, in Rotterdam and Delft, with a joint research man- date: the analysis of biomedical images. Investigating how you can obtain as much information as possible from these images. As such, this can include all kinds of imaging, but in practice I focus on MRI images, particular- ly those of the brain.’

Computers can very efficiently compare images

‘In the past, physicians only had a limited number of images available to them, and they could quite easily assess these with the human eye. But the amount of information available to them has increased substantially over the past years– not only ‘planar’ anatomical images, but also images in 3D, films, and images in which not only the anatomy but also the function can be made visible. Furthermore, we now build much larger databases, and computers can very efficiently compare new images with a huge number of older pictures. Computers are able to draw new comparisons, ‘recognize’ patterns unnoticed until now and discover new markers.’

‘But make no mistake: com- puters can do an awful lot, but they are unlikely to completely replace the eye in the near future. The human eye, and our brain that analyses this visual information, is in many respects still superior to computers. Computer systems are comple- mentary to visual interpretation; they can compare vast amounts of data and give more objective and quantitative information, but they are still merely assistants. Assessing all the information and the final interpretation will contin- ue to be the work of humans, at least for now.’

Early detection of neurological disorders

‘In Rotterdam, we have devel- oped software over the past years that compares brain scans. This enables the early detection of neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. We are now going ‘to market’ this software through a separate company, an Erasmus MC spin- off called Quantib. When this thought first came to mind we soon realized that we would be faced with two challenges: first of all, if you want to market a good product it has to be robust and user friendly. It has to be tested in all sorts of ways and under a variety of conditions. You have to be able to deliver industrial quality software. The second challenge is having to prove to the regulatory authorities that your product really does what it claims to do. This too requires an enormous amount of specialized work. University institutes are not equipped to deal with such requirements. This is why we established Quantib.’

Combined creativity of Rotter- dam, Delft, Leiden

‘We will provide our product to large industrial companies. General Electric Healthcare will be our first customer. Quantib will deliver ‘semi-finished products’ that will be built into the GE workstations. We will present our first product during a large radiology conference in Chicago later this year. And of course we hope that Quantib will be able to launch many more products on the market. It is our dream that the combined creativity of Erasmus MC, TU Delft and the LUMC will provide a constant flow of ideas that can be converted into products via Quantib for the benefit of patients and physicians worldwide.’