DTL’s mission is to establish an interconnected research infrastructure that cost-effectively enables cross-technology life science research. To this end, around 120 Dutch life science expert groups have registered their facilities or expertise as public or private ‘DTL Hotels’. “I consider the DTL Hotel network the lubricating oil in the machine of Dutch life science research,” says Alain van Gool, scientific lead of DTL Technologies.
The Hotel network consists of Public Technology Hotels (i.e., research groups that offer high-end technology or data expertise on a collaborative or cost-covering basis) and Private Technology Hotels (or ‘Service Providers’, i.e., companies that offer state-of-the-art technology services, often also on a cost-recovery basis). DTL acts as a platform for the Hotels to collaborate and coordinate their activities, across life science domains (e.g., health, nutrition, agro, biotech, and biodiversity) and across technologies (e.g., bioimaging, bioinformatics, genomics, medical imaging, metabolomics, phenotyping, proteomics, structural biology, and systems biology).
Van Gool: “Gathering in a national network enables the Hotels to make the Dutch facilities and expertise findable. A hotel overview is available on the DTL website. In addition, the network makes the facilities more accessible, for instance through the Enabling Technologies Hotels programme.”
Enabling Technologies Hotels
ZonMw and NWO-ALW have set up the ‘Enabling Technologies Hotels (ETH) programme’ to stimulate open access of Dutch research facilities in collaboration with DTL. Life science researchers can apply for ETH funding to get access to expensive equipment and expertise of a Technology Hotel. Van Gool: “There have been three calls so far. In the latest round, 28 projects were granted. Many of the earlier grant recipients have indicated that they will continue collaborating after the ETH project, for instance by jointly writing grant proposals or by financing follow-up research from their own means. So the programme has already resulted in fruitful new collaborations. I think DTL can be very proud of this.”
Van Gool: “The next call of the programme is expected to open early in 2017. With a EUR 1.8 million budget, the 2017 programme will be twice the size of the previous one. The maximal budget per project will remain EUR 30k, meaning that twice as many project proposals can be granted. While the previous ETH calls were limited to public-private collaborations, public projects without company involvement will also become eligible in 2017. In addition, we expect that private Hotels (i.e., Service Providers) will become eligible partners as well.”
In addition to promoting accessibility of infrastructure, the Hotel programme aims to stimulate adequate data stewardship. Therefore, ETH applicants are asked to submit a data management plan as part of the grant application. In the 2017 call, this will probably only be asked from the projects that are selected for funding. This is also in line with the procedure in other ZonMw programmes. DTL will be involved in the assessment of the data management plans and it will advise applicants on how to improve the plan. Van Gool: “A data management plan helps researchers to properly prepare their research project. In addition, it ensures that the obtained data will meet the FAIR data principles.”
Van Gool elaborates on the FAIR data principles: “The life sciences are confronted with a replication crisis: at best only about 50% of life science research results can be reproduced. This is partly caused by poor standardisation between research laboratories (i.e., in the data capture process). But it is also the result of poor accessibility of the methods by which research data were generated. Research data are often not archived in a form that allows them to be reproduced by other researchers. This also is inefficient because data usually has more value than the original project will use.”
DTL-associated scientists have played a key role in developing the FAIR data principles. FAIR stands for ‘Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable’. These principles act as an international guideline for proper data stewardship, which has been endorsed by both the European Commission and the G20. At present, DTL is helping the Hotels to improve their research quality by implementing the FAIR principles. Merlijn van Rijswijk (DTL Technologies programme manager, red.) and myself are organising a series of FAIR data Focus Meetings for Hotel managers. In addition, we intend to organize Bring Your Own Data workshops (BYODs) per technology to assist Hotels in implementing FAIR data stewardship.”
In line with its ambition to realise interconnected infrastructures across the life sciences, DTL plays a key role in the Health Research Infrastructure initiative (Health-RI), jointly developed by ELIXIR-NL, BBMRI-NL2.0, EATRIS-NL, DTL, NFU and Health~Holland. Health-RI will interconnect a wide range of resources, including research facilities, biobanks and data collections, resulting in more effective health research. Health-RI’s ultimate goal is improving personalised health and medicine (i.e., tailored prevention, diagnosis, and prognosis of diseases).
“We want to involve as many Hotels in Health-RI as possible. For instance, several Hotels are experts in sequencing tumours. If tumour samples from multiple biobanks are sequenced at these Hotels, a standardised data treatment procedure at the Hotels would make it possible to link the sequencing data to imaging data. This will result in new insights in the disease, and eventually hopefully also in personalised medicine and health approaches. So by connecting the Hotels to the Health-RI initiative, their efforts will be used for a larger goal: health benefits for everyone, a stimulant to Dutch science and innovation, and an active Dutch involvement in European initiatives,” concludes van Gool.