Connecting Biobanks: Where generators and interpretators meet
10 Dec 2010
On Monday November 22, over 200 participants gathered at the AMC in Amsterdam for the conference 'Connecting Biobanks'. The conference was an initiative of the Concept Web Alliance (CWA), NBIC and BBMRI-NL. Goal of the meeting: bringing together data generators and data interpretators to emphasize the importance of bioinformatics in connecting biobanks.
"The conference underlined the importance of bioinformatics really well. Biobanks need bioinformatics to make their data available to the community at large", says Albert Mons, Executive Secretary of CWA. He points to the keynote lecture by Josh Sommer, a young American who was diagnosed with a rare type of bone cancer called Chordoma in 2006. He subsequently founded the Chordoma Foundation to stimulate the development of effective treatments. In his efforts to bring together academics that study Chordoma, it proved to be very difficult to locate clinical data on the disease even though he knew that Chordoma research was being performed at several sites. Mons: "His search for data clearly demonstrated the need for coupling biobanks. Important data is out there, but in many cases it is extremely difficult to find the datasets you need, let alone access and use them, because they are typically stored in locally distributed databases that all have their own format. It would help biomedical research tremendously if all datasets would be made interoperable."
Input from the biobanks field was secured through the involvement of BBMRI-NL in the conference. BBMRI-NL is the Dutch national 'hub' of the European Biobanking and BioMolecular Resources Research Infrastructure (BBMRI) and the conference marked the official start of BBMRI-NL. "The launch of BBMRI-NL provided a perfect opportunity to host this conference together", Mons explains. "From the CWA standpoint, we want to communicate our message of interoperability as broadly as possible. We are a supporting organisation and our work perfectly matches the needs and ambitions of BBMRI-NL and many other data generators."
The CWA parallel session in the afternoon programme focused on the practical side of connecting biobanks. Several prototypes were showcased and discussed. Topics included dealing with different languages, identifying and locating experts and performing data analyses within a database instead of transferring large amounts of data to your own environment. Part of the sessions were organised again the next day, November 23, during Life Sciences Momentum 2010 in Utrecht. At the same event, Barend Mons (NBIC/CWA) also presented CWA to the life sciences community in a '20-minute session'. The outgoing attitude of CWA will be sustained, according to Albert Mons. "Co-organising events with other organisations is a very good way for CWA to show what we have to offer and how we can help. I certainly foresee more of this type of activities in the near future."
More information: Presentations and pictures of the conference are available at