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

INFOBIOMED: A Joint European Effort to Support the Establishment of Biomedical Informatics

by Carlos Díaz

The European Commission funds a Network of Excellence to foster the development of Biomedical Informatics as a key integrative discipline for future healthcare.

Bioinformatics (BI) and Medical Informatics (MI) are disciplines that up to now have followed separate development with few contacts and synergies between them. The publication of the human genome has evidenced the need and the possibilities for a strong synergy between these two disciplines. The integration and exploitation of the data and information generated at all levels in both fields requires a new approach that enables a two-way dialogue between them that comprises data, methods, technologies, tools and applications. Biomedical Informatics (BMI) is the emerging area that aims to put these two worlds together. The mission of BMI is to provide the technical and scientific infrastructure and knowledge to allow evidence-based, individualised healthcare using all relevant sources of information. These sources include the "classical" information as currently maintained in the health record, as well as new genomic, proteomic and other molecular-level information. Aiming at a change from late stage diagnosis towards early detection or even prediction of disease, BMI bears the potential to foster discovery and creation of novel diagnostic and therapeutic methods, in order to improve the health and quality of life of the individual, as well as the efficiency of expenditure in healthcare systems.

With the objective of supporting the development of BMI in Europe, the INFOBIOMED Network of Excellence gathers 16 European organizations from 10 different countries (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden). Funded by the European Commission for an initial period of 3 years, the Network brings together research groups with different backgrounds, creating a multidisciplinary team that provides an excellent framework to trigger the collaborative approach needed in order to enforce the establishment of BMI as a crucial scientific discipline for future healthcare. The network is composed by: Fundació IMIM, Institut Municipal d'Investigació Mèdica, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Karolinska Institute, Edinburgh University, Custodix, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Universidade de Aveiro, Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas, Danish Centre for Health Telematics, Informa S.r.l, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Erasmus MC-University Medical Center Rotterdam, Hvidovre Hospital, Academisch Centrum Tandheelkunde Amsterdam, and AstraZeneca Research and Development. The project is coordinated by the Research Unit on Biomedical Informatics (GRIB) of the Institut Municipal d'Investigació Mèdica (IMIM) in Barcelona, Spain.

The joint programme of activities that INFOBIOMED aims to implement in this initial phase has been designed to first, study all the significant aspects that are already relevant to Medical Informatics and Bioinformatics and that have the potential to provide a space for synergy between them. These aspects are included in two separate blocks of activities, one for data interoperability and management and the other for methods, technologies and tools. Each block is divided in several activities that reflect the main different areas that can require specific effort towards synergy: data characteristics and ontologies, data integration approaches, ethics and confidentiality, data mining and information retrieval, image visualisation and analysis, and decision support systems. The first steps are directed to make a complete analysis of the state of the art and to identify the existing bottlenecks. Subsequently, the Network expects to tackle selected developments addressed to solve the detected gaps, so that obstacles to the realisation of BMI as a key discipline are reduced.

The INFOBIOMED project applies a vertical as well as a horizontal approach to Biomedical Informatics, so that a global perspective is possible. In this framework, all the knowledge gathered and created in the above-mentioned activities will be then tested into some 'vertical' pilot applications that aim to cover the whole range of information levels from molecule to population, from a practical perspective that works as test-bed for the integrative approach pursued. These pilots will facilitate the analysis of the impact of BMI in key specific fields with the aim of investigating and knowing the requirements that these fields impose to BMI. The pilot applications also intend to create a bi-directional dialogue between BMI and other health-related disciplines, in order to prevent the isolation of scientists of different disciplines and to foster the creation of a solid, durable scientific community. The four areas covered by pilot applications are:

  • pharmainformatics, which aims at investigating the impact of BMI at the different stages of the drug discovery process, from target identification to lead optimisation
  • genomics and microbiology, focussed on the study of host and pathogen genetic polymorphisms, protein interactions and transcriptional/translational control and how these impact on microbial virulence and host immune responses to infection
  • genomics and chronic inflammation, aimed at investigating the factors involved in susceptibility to adult periodontitis, as a model for complex diseases
  • genomics and colon cancer, targeted at studying and improving the organization of screening in families with a high risk of developing colon cancer.


Please contact:
Carlos Díaz - INFOBIOMED Project Manager, IMIM, Spain
Tel: +34 93 2240302