In this third newsletter of the UMCs' programme Data4lifesciences, we are highlighting one of the work packages, "Reuse of clinical data for research" coordinated by Prof André Dekker. Also in this newsletter: a report on the vibrant Data4lifesciences event in September providing an overview of the first results of the Data4lifesciences program and an item on where to find the updated work plans on our website. And to put in your agenda: the upcoming annual meeting of Health-RI, the Dutch umbrella infrastructure for personalized medicine and health research.
In the Data4lifesciences programme, the eight Dutch UMCs work together with an impressive list of research organisations. Together, they will establish a shared data infrastructure for biomedical research. One of the Data4lifesciences partners is the Dutch Techcentre for Life Sciences (DTL). ‘Joining forces is crucial to reduce research costs and to find adequate solutions for data-related problems‘, says DTL data programme manager Rob Hooft.
The Dutch Techcentre for Life Sciences (DTL) is a nationwide platform with an increasing number of life sciences and e-science partner organisations in the Netherlands. DTL’s core activities are facilitating access to expensive high-end technologies and promoting the effective use of research data. DTL coordinates the Dutch node of ELIXIR, which is the European infrastructure for life sciences information.
Focus on data stewardship
Adequate data stewardship is a major focus of DTL and ELIXIR. ‘Data stewardship is a buzzword in data-intensive science’, says Rob Hooft. ‘Many people define data stewardship as the things a scientist must do after his data-intensive experiments to make sure the results can be reproduced by others. But DTL proposes a different view: data stewardship can and should benefit the scientist and science directly. It ensures that your data is robust, safe from loss or corruption, and easy to find for yourself and others. This means that data stewardship is the combination of all expertise needed to treat data well in a project, all to your own benefit.
DTL was actively involved in creating the Handbook for Adequate Natural Data Stewardship (HANDS). (See the article about HANDS.) Rob Hooft: ‘HANDS shows that there are many aspects to data stewardship. It is impossible to be an expert in each of these fields. So we really need each other’s expertise to improve data stewardship in the Dutch UMCs.’
Key to the guidelines in HANDS is the so-called FAIR data approach, i.e., making data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable. The FAIR concept was developed by DTL-associated groups and it rapidly gains momentum. It is also becoming the norm internationally. By adopting the FAIR approach, life scientists in the Dutch UMCs can be at the forefront. It will help them to get more out of their own data and to link it to others’ data. FAIR elegantly uses the strength of computers to find new relationships: data stewardship for discovery!
Access to experts
In addition to being involved in HANDS, DTL coordinates another sub-project of Data4lifesciences. This entails setting up a national expertise network to promote knowledge exchange between the UMCs and other stakeholders. Rob Hooft: ‘We are creating a situation where scientists can address their questions about data stewardship to experts at their UMCs. And we want these experts to be in contact with each other so that they can refer scientists to the right experts outside of their own UMCs if necessary.’
Getting more out of the data
Rob Hooft concludes: ‘I enjoy bringing together people with the same goals. Sometimes people do not even realise that they have the same goals. In these times of limited research funding, we really need to collaborate to get the most out of our research data.‘