Oxford, Harvard scientists lead data-sharing effort

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release date: 29-Jan-2012
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Contact: Adi Himpson
adi.himpson@oerc.ox.ac.uk
44-186-561-0620
Harvard
University

Led by researchers at University of Oxford (UK) and the Harvard
Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) at Harvard University, (USA), more
than 50 collaborators at over 30 scientific organizations
around the globe have agreed on a common standard that will
make possible the consistent description of enormous and
radically different databases compiled in fields ranging from
genetics to stem cell science, to environmental studies.

The new standard provides a way for scientists in widely
disparate fields to co-ordinate each other's findings by
allowing behind-the-scenes combination of the mountains of data
produced by modern, technology driven science.

"We are now working together to provide the means to manage
enormous quantities of otherwise incompatible data, ranging
from the biomedical to the environmental," says Susanna-Assunta
Sansone, Ph.D, Team Leader of the project at the University of
Oxford's Oxford e-Research Centre.

This standard-compliant data sharing effort and the
establishment of its on-line presence, the ISA Commons ?
http://www.isacommons.org, is
described in a Commentary published today in the journal
Nature Genetics. The commentary is signed by all the
collaborators.

"An example of how this works at the Harvard Stem Cell
Institute is that we can now find a relationship between
experiments involving normal blood stem cells in fish and
cancers in children", says Winston Hide, director of HSCI's new
Center for Stem Cell Bioinformatics, and an associate Professor
of Bioinformatics at the Harvard School of Public Health.

ISA Commons is also being used at Harvard Medical School (HMS)
by the HMS LINCS
(Library of Integrated Network-based Cellular Signatures)
project, led by Professors Peter Sorger and Timothy
Mitchison.

It was necessary to establish common data standards, say the
commentary's authors, because of the tsunami of data and
technologies washing over the sciences. "There are hundreds of
new technologies coming along but also many ways to describe
the information produced" said Sansone, noting that "we can
take a jigsaw puzzle of different sciences and now fit the many
pieces together to form a complete picture".

"One of the things that I find most empowering about this
effort is that now small research groups can begin to store
laboratory data using this framework, complying with community
standards, without their own dedicated bioinformatics support.
It is a bit like Facebook allowing everyone to create their own
website pages - suddenly you don't need to be an expert in
computing to get your data out to the rest of the world", says
Dr. Jules Griffin, of the University of Cambridge.

"What we like about it is its unifying nature across different
bioscience fields and institutions", says Dr. Christoph
Steinbeck, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, The European
Bioinformatics Institute.

And "it also has the potential to work for large centers too",
says Scott Edmunds, editor of the journal published by
open-access publisher BioMedCentral and BGI Shenzhen
(previously known as the Beijing Genomics Institute) the
world's largest genomics institute, "We are working with this
framework to help harmonizing and presenting may large-data
types as possible in a common standardized and usable form,
publishing it in the associated GigaScience journal."

###

The work was funded, by among others, the Harvard Stem Cell
Institute, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and the UK's
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The Oxford e-Research
Centre works across the University of Oxford, and at
national and international level, to accelerate research
through development of innovative computational and information
technologies in multidisciplinary collaborations. The Harvard Stem Cell Institute
is a collaboration of more than 100 Harvard and
Harvard-affiliated scientists dedicated to using the power of
stem cell biology to advance basic understanding of human
development in order to develop treatments and cures for a host
of degenerative conditions and diseases.

B. D. Colen, Harvard Stem Cell Institute
bd_colen@harvard.edu
- 617-495-7821/617-413-1224

Adi Himpson, Oxford e-Research Centre, University of Oxford
adi.himpson@oerc.ox.ac.uk
- +44 1865 610620

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Oxford, Harvard scientists lead data-sharing effort

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