< Contents ERCIM News No. 60, January 2005
SPECIAL THEME: Biomedical Informatics

ERCIM Working Group on Biomedical Informatics

by Manolis Tsiknakis and Dimitris Kafetzopoulos

On an initiative by scientists from FORTH, ERCIM's Board of Directors has established a Working Group on Biomedical Informatics.

Following the release of the Human Genome Project data, bioMedical informatics (BMI) has emerged as a scientific field worldwide, bringing together the disciplines of medical informatics, medical imaging, bioinformatics and possibly neuroinformatics in order to support individualized and proactive medicine in the post-genomic era. The mission of BMI is to provide the technical and scientific infrastructure and knowledge to allow evidence-based, individualized healthcare using all relevant sources of information.

BioMedical informatics aims not only to bring together these traditionally distant scientific disciplines but also to synthesize and exploit the whole spectrum of heath-related information, from molecules (ie molecular interactions, molecular imaging), to cells (neuron signalling, proteomic and transcriptomic profiles), to tissues, organs and organisms (cancer classification, pathogens), to individuals (integrated EHR, genotypes) and populations (epidemiology and public health records). BioMedical informatics touches on all basic and applied fields in biomedical science and is closely tied to modern information technology, notably in the areas of computing and communication.

Europe has demonstrated considerable interest, great momentum and substantial results in relevant fields over the years, by participating in most of the genome research projects, establishing outstanding facilities for bioinformatics (eg SwissProt and EBI) and by leading research and development in medical informatics through health telematics, medical imaging, health information networks and eHealth programs. Further, several groups in ERCIM institutions have oriented their interest in this multidisciplinary and emerging field of BioMedical Informatics, have played a crucial role in defining and guiding the R&D agenda in this area (see J. Biomed. Inform. (2004), 37:30-42) and have already achieved a high level of recognition. This momentum needs to be sustained and advanced.

The ERCIM BioMedical Informatics Working Group (WG) intends to promote interaction and collaboration between ERCIM R&D groups relevant to this area, and to facilitate cross-fertilization and synergies between distant scientific disciplines. The overall aim is to consolidate and advance this new field of research, enabling a better level of individualized health care in the post-genomic era.

Particular emphasis has been placed on understanding the link between genes, disease and the environment, and on the development of predictive models for diseases linked to genetic and environmental risk factors. This will allow appropriate preventive measures to be taken and progress to be monitored continuously. Researchers in the following fields could be interested and included in the activities of the WG:

  • integration and analysis of genetic and medical information for health applications
  • biomedical ontologies
  • gene expression analysis (computational and experimental)
  • genetic imaging
  • modelling of genetic disorders and diseases
  • Grid- based approaches to molecular-biomedical applications
  • data mining and visualization of biomedical data
  • computational methods and tools to support individualized medicine.

The Working Group also aims to promote awareness of promising basic and applied research results and their potential industrial adoption, in order to promote relevant standards and foster mobility of ERCIM researchers.

A number of ERCIM institutes and/or individual researchers from eleven European countries have actively participated in the initial meetings and discussions aiming at defining the scope and objectives of the WG or have expressed their interest in participating and contributing to future activities of the WG. The Working Group is open and we welcome new members. Potential collaborations and common activities have also been discussed with the recently formed Working Group of the International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA).

The immediate plan of action for the WG includes:

  • liaising with the EU, providing contributions towards the elaboration of the EU research agenda and priorities in the domain
  • establishing R&D collaborations between the participating organizations (special efforts will be made in coordinating the submission of research proposals within the European Framework Programs)
  • taking action in order to assist the mobility of (in particular young) researchers within the ERCIM BMI community
  • organising a scientific workshop in the spring of 2005.

The WG has also been invited to submit a proposal for the organization of a satellite workshop during the VLDB international conference to be held in September 2005. The purpose of this would be to emphasize to the VLDB research community the significant challenges raised by biomedical informatics related to ontologies, semantic integration of heterogeneous and distributed resources, visualization of large and complex data sets, and so on.

The Web site for the Working Group will be available soon, with information and details of all activities, performed or planned.

Please contact:
Manolis Tsiknakis, FORTH, Greece

Dimitris Kafetzopoulos, FORTH, Greece