Alexander von Humboldt Professorship for Artificial Intelligence 2024

Peter Nicholas Robinson

Peter N. Robinson is a pioneer in the computer-assisted genome and phenotype analysis of genetic diseases. His major work has been the development of the Human Phenotype Ontology, which is now a standard tool used internationally to diagnose gene-related diseases. At the Charité in Berlin, Robinson is invited to develop algorithms for AI-based precision medicine.

  • Nominating University: FU Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Peter Nicholas Robinson
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Computational biology

Diseases like flu and chickenpox are relatively easy to diagnose. It is known that symptoms like fever, aching limbs, a cough or a characteristic skin rash can be traced back to a specific pathogen. It is much more difficult when it comes to the early diagnosis of genetic diseases – because gene mutation can lead to symptoms of varying severity. And the clinical manifestations often differ, as well. Traditionally, some were not linked to genetic deviations at all, which meant hereditary diseases remained unidentified.

In 2008, the medical researcher and genome expert, Peter N. Robinson, developed the Human Phenotype Ontology of genetically associated diseases. The database allows users to match the clinical disease manifestations with the relevant gene mutations and syndromes. This computer assisted reference source is continuously updated and now contains 13,000 terms and 156,000 annotations on genetic diseases. Various applications mean the data can be searched and weighted according to the information provided by the user - thus facilitating diagnosis.

With the database Robinson laid the foundations for tracing rare inherited diseases with the help of artificial intelligence. He is a pioneer of computer-assisted phenotype analysis and has been one of the top researchers in the field for many years. He himself has identified several genes associated with Mendelian genetic diseases and written algorithms that facilitate the investigation of genome and exome sequences as well as finding correlations with clinical manifestations and gene mutations.

With the arrival of Peter N. Robinson, the Berlin Institute of Health at Charité (BIH) will recruit an excellent protagonist of translational research in bioinformatics who is supposed to close the gap between data science and applied medicine. In the long term, this should facilitate tailored precision therapy because the computer-assisted data analysis methods mean patient data on genetic diseases can be clustered, data compared, clinical procedures predicted and personalised treatment strategies developed.

Brief bio

Peter N. Robinson read mathematics and computer science at Columbia University, NYC, United States, and medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, United States. In 2000, he completed his specialist training in paediatrics at Charité Berlin. Here he held a professorship in medical genomics as well as a fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin. In 2016, he relocated to the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Connecticut, United States, where he is a professor of computational biology.

Peter N. Robinson has been selected for a Humboldt Professorship for Artificial Intelligence and is currently conducting appointment negotiations with the German university that nominated him for the award. If the negotiations end successfully, the award will be granted in 2024.