New Chair for Virtual Morphology at the JKU Faculty of Medicine

Beginning November 1, Franz Fellner will be the Chair of Virtual Morphology at the Johannes Kepler University Linz.

Professor Franz Fellner, Credit: JKU
Professor Franz Fellner, Credit: JKU

Franz Fellner (Dean of Academic Affairs at the JKU Faculty of Medicine and head of the Central Radiology Institute at the Kepler University Hospital) is setting new standards in medical education and recently accepted an international "Virtual Anatomy" award in recognition of the innovative ‘JKU medSPACE’.

Being presented with an international award just eleven days after taking a chair position does not happen often but on November 11, he accepted the 2022 E&T Innovation Award “Virtual Anatomy” in the category of "Best Emerging Technology of the Year" (1st prize) and a 2nd place award in the category of "Most Innovative Solution in Digital Health and Social Care". Virtual Anatomy, developed by the Ars Electronica Futurelab in cooperation with Siemens Healthineers and the JKU, turns cross-sectional MRI and CT data provided by actual patients into photorealistic, three-dimensional human anatomical images. Prof. Fellner takes students on a virtual journey through the human body at the JKU’s medSPACE multimedia lecture hall.

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Franz Fellner comments on the new position as chair:

What exactly does it mean to be the Chair of Virtual Morphology?
Franz Fellner:
Morphology is education and research focusing on shape and form. This is something we implement virtually by using cutting-edge options in the field of technology. The high-end JKU medSPACE is a prime example, enabling us to teach students about human anatomy based on the patient’s individual examinations and clinical findings. The first challenge will be to continue to establish the JKU medSPACE as an educational space for students and trained physicians, as well as to the general public.

Why is your radiology department so special?
Franz Fellner:
We radiologists are, so to say, among the last of the "general practitioners" at the hospital, namely in that we examine all areas of the body on a daily basis. We also have to work with and interact colleagues in all different and that’s nice. At the same time, however, it is also extremely challenging because ultimately you also have to specialize in various fields. Radiology is also a fascinating combination that links medicine and high-end technology in a special form in that you are a physician but you also facilitate important communication with patients and clinical colleagues and the fascinating technical features are "merely" the tools.

What will the research focus be?
Franz Fellner:
The initial focus will be on research in medical didactics. We want to learn more about virtual anatomy’s actual value. Over the centuries, nothing has changed much in the way anatomy has been taught. For the first time, virtual anatomy - whether using computer simulations or, as we have developed it by turning cross-sectional CT and MR data provided by actual patients into photorealistic 3D images - is now a completely different way of presenting anatomy. It will be interesting to find out just how medical students and fully trained physicians can benefit from it.

When it comes to education, what do you want to focus on?
Franz Fellner:
In addition to lecturing in the JKU medSPACE and taking advantage of its infinite possibilities, I would like to strengthen interdisciplinary education by involving anatomists in Linz and Graz as well as clinicians in various fields. In addition, I would like to include cases that feature pathological changes so students can appreciate just how important studies in anatomy are and hopefully it will also be more motivating. After all, you can only identify pathological changes once you understand what the "normal" looks like.

What is your vision for the future?
Franz Fellner:
Naturally, I have many visions for the future. One of the most interesting would certainly be to try to make the Department of Virtual Morphology an interdisciplinary hub between preclinical and clinical areas as well as between individual subject areas in the two areas. Beyond that, possibly in other areas at the JKU, such as in the field of STEM subjects.

What does being a doctor mean to you?
Franz Fellner
: It's a wonderful, challenging profession that includes many different areas since it combines natural sciences and social sciences with communications and analytical thinking. The best thing by far is being able to use my profession to help sick people. There are many benefits when your job is also your hobby.

Congratulatory messages to Prof. Fellner:

JKU Rector Meinhard Lukas remarked: "I am extremely pleased that Franz Fellner, an outstanding expert in his field, is now the chair of Virtual Morphology. At the same time, I would like to congratulate him on winning the E&T Innovation Award. It was an honor to accept the award in London on behalf of the JKU Faculty of Medicine and our partners, the Ars Electronica Futurelab and Siemens Healthineers. We have established a faculty that is ready for the 21st century and this innovative chair is another step towards an exciting future of medicine."

Elgin Drda, JKU Vice-Rector for Medicine, added: "Franz Fellner is one of the early-day pioneers, playing a key role right from the start to establish and shape the Faculty of Medicine. Prof. Fellner’s enthusiasm and commitment to his special field of digital anatomy and to the Faculty of Medicine is both contagious and inspiring. His gripping medSPACE lectures continue to fascinate students and his classes are always full. The entire faculty would like to congratulate Prof. Fellner on his appointment."

On this occasion, Franz Harnoncourt (managing director at the Kepler University Hospital) remarked: "I am delighted that Prof. Fellner - both a universally respected primarius at our institution and an absolute pioneer in virtual anatomy – has been appointed as the Chair of Virtual Morphology. Prof. Fellner is passionate about the JKU Faculty of Medicine and his role in the success story of our medical school and creating the JKU medSPACE is nothing less than pioneering. I would like to sincerely congratulate Prof. Fellner on his appointment."

About Franz Fellner

Born in Passau on July 15, 1966, Prof. Dr. Franz Fellner studied medicine at the University of Regensburg and at the Technical University of Munich. Fellner earned his doctorate "magna cum laude" at the Technical University of Munich in 1996. In 2001, he earned his post-doctoral qualifications in diagnostic radiology. After working at the Friedrich Alexander University in Erlangen-Nuremberg and at the Linz State Neurological Hospital (now the Neuromed Campus at the Kepler University Hospital) as a senior consultant, he led the Institute of Central Radiology at the General Hospital (AKH) in Linz since 2005, and at the Kepler University Hospital since January 1, 2016. Franz Fellner has served as the Faculty of Medicine’s Dean of Academic Affairs since 2019 and has played in a key role in its development.

Apart from his professional commitments, he enjoys playing the piano. Fellner added: "Lately, however, I unfortunately have little time for hobbies as I work quite a lot. However, I used to enjoy listening to good music, both classical and modern, especially live concerts. I also enjoy good cabaret, such as Michael Niaravani in Austria or Dieter Nuhr in Germany. I have, however, been making an effort to make the time to play the piano again."

About Virtual Anatomy at the JKU medSPACE
Virtual Anatomy takes real patient information acquired using MRI and CT scans and combines it in a completely new way to be displayed as high-definition, photorealistic images in 8K stereoscopic 3D. The instructor can also freely rotate the images and zoom in on the smallest structures, thereby facilitating completely new approaches, especially when teaching anatomy. The faculty have been using Virtual Anatomy at the JKU medSPACE since last year.
Another special feature of Virtual Anatomy is that during classes, students can work with information provided by actual patients instead of working with standard, 3D anatomical models. The real patient information is acquired using CT and MRI devices at the Kepler University Hospital and is then displayed in high-end photographic quality in 8K and in stereography, which is also navigable in real-time.