Portrait: Theresa Wirth
Where computer science meets medicine

Theresa Wirth translates medical problems into the language of computer science to find AI-based solutions. In part 16 of our series of employee portraits, she describes her motivations and how she found her way to applied research.

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While studying Bioinformatics at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) and the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Theresa Wirth quickly became aware that she wanted to work in medicine: “Medicine is something that affects people. With it, we’re not working on something that we can’t relate to, and it isn’t very difficult to understand the specific impacts of our work. There is a tangible reason for why I am doing things, and that motivates me.”

Since September 2021, Theresa has been applying this motivation at Fraunhofer IKS as part of the Reasoned AI Decisions team. The department is looking into the ways that artificial intelligence and machine learning can be used for better decision-making in clinical environments. Theresa is looking at the intersection between computer science and medicine: “This translational side fascinates me the most: completely different languages are used in both areas, so communication is incredibly important.”

Clinical knowledge must expand continuously

There is no lack of challenges in doing this: She needs to acquire new clinical knowledge for each project. Furthermore, the data that she works with is often very subjective as not all of the patients have undergone the same medical tests. A high tolerance for frustration is often required for her work, but Theresa noted that “you are working towards a goal that drives you, and I find that helpful.” This aspect is guaranteed in her current project, where she and her team are working to improve the situation of premature babies using AI. It is not always clear why the health of premature babies often develops very differently. Additional research is required to react to this in a more targeted manner.

Theresa Wirth

Theresa Wirth: “I always need to have this moral compass for myself and my projects. I want to work on something where I can also make a difference.”

The journey to applied research

Theresa’s career in science began when she was a student, with her internship at Helmholtz Zentrum in Munich. She quickly developed a fascination for research: “I think that I always need a new challenge — I find it incredibly exciting to have something new to get to the bottom of, even if it can be a bit tedious sometimes.” This is why she initially decided to pursue a doctorate following her studies: “A lot of my PhD was associated with developing methods, and I realized that I prefer to be closer to people than to deliberate over the solution to a theoretical problem. It was taking me in a direction that I didn’t feel comfortable with. My PhD would have forced me onto the track of methodology and I wanted to go in the other direction and conduct applied research instead.”

Get to know other employees

Would you like to get to know even more employees at Fraunhofer IKS? If so, you can take a look at the other portraits here: Link to the employee portraits

She did, however, remain incredibly excited by the topic and wanted to pursue it further, which is why she moved to Fraunhofer IKS in September 2021: “I was able to focus even more on what I’m interested in. Who knows what will happen in a couple of years, maybe I will want to do a PhD at some point. But for now, I’m very happy.”

In her free time, Theresa loves being in nature. “I really love being in the mountains. We have a little RV which we often take to South Tyrol, and it does me so much good.” Besides the mountains, she spends a lot of time at the sports hall in her hometown of Grafing, where she practices acrobatics and aerial arts as well as being a trainer.

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