ELIXIR-NL will coordinate data approaches of Dutch life sciences facilities

On 13 December 2016, NWO officially presented its ‘Roadmap for Large-Scale Scientific Infrastructure’. The Roadmap contains 33 research facilities and clusters that are eligible for NWO funding in the next four years. One of these 33 is ELIXIR-NL. “We have been asked to coordinate the data approach of the life science facilities,” says Jaap Heringa, Head of ELIXIR’s Dutch node.

Collaboration is one of the Roadmap’s cornerstones. The Permanent Committee that composed the Roadmap initially performed a landscape analysis, creating an overview of Dutch research facilities in need of investment. They noted that various facilities requested similar equipment and that new investments were made or planned despite the fact that there was still capacity at existing facilities. In other words, there was a need for harmonisation and collaboration. Jaap Heringa: “Therefore, the Committee has asked several facilities to work together. As a result, the Roadmap contains 17 clusters in addition to 16 individual facilities. For the broader life sciences, the Committee has selected 11 clusters and 4 individual facilities.”

Heringa has been appointed as the figurehead of the ELIXIR-NL cluster on the Roadmap. He explains: “As part of the European data infrastructure, ELIXIR-NL already was a collaborative effort of almost all Dutch universities and university medical centres, several research institutes and companies. The ELIXIR-NL Roadmap cluster thus connects the broader life sciences stakeholders in the Netherlands. In the context of the Roadmap, the Permanent Committee has asked ELIXIR-NL to form a cluster with two specific facilities: the Digital Research Environment (DRE) facility of Radboudumc and the EuroCAT &WorldCat facilities of Maastricht University Medical Centre. The alliance with the DRE adds to the potential of the ELIXIR-NL cluster to support life science research projects with their digital needs. And even when data cannot be moved outside the lab, for example because of privacy issues, they can still be combined via distributed learning models provided by EuroCAT/WorldCAT.”

Research data must be made accessible and available for reuse according to international standards and FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable). At the same time, we need better ways to combine data across disciplines, and across technologies. The Permanent Committee has asked the facilities in the entire domain of the life sciences to design their data policy in close cooperation with ELIXIR-NL. Heringa: “ELIXIR-NL will coordinate the development of the ‘FAIR data backbone’ for exchange and combined analysis of research data among labs and infrastructures in the life sciences. We will align all life sciences clusters and the national e-infrastructure in a common data treatment approach.”

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