Biomedical Informatics: The Opportunity and Challenge for Multidisciplinary Research
Director of Directorate C: Miniaturisation, Embedded Systems, Societal Applications,
Information Society Directorate-General, European Commission
Biomedical Informatics (BMI) is a multidisciplinary field rising from the synergy of medical informatics, bioinformatics and neuroinformatics. The main mission of BMI is to provide a framework for developing, integrating and sharing biomedical knowledge related to human health from very different research disciplines such as genomics, proteomics, clinical research and epidemiology. The ultimate objectives of BMI are to support molecular medicine and personalised healthcare.
The advances in information and communication technologies (ICT), coupled with the increased knowledge about the human genome, have opened new perspectives for the study of complex diseases. There is a growing need to integrate and translate the knowledge about human genome into concrete benefits for all citizens such as more effective disease prevention mechanisms, individualised medicines and treatments and many other aspects of future citizen centred healthcare systems.
To carry out the work it is important to add value to the data that is stored in huge, publicly accessible research databases around the world generated by functional genomics and proteomics research by linking it with patients clinical and genetic information that is stored in mostly smaller and secured clinical information databases and electronic health records. GRID technologies (see ERCIM News 59) constitute one of the promising tools in this direction. The use of GRID technologies and infrastructures in health sciences has been supported by the IST programme for several years now (HealthGrid).
BMI deals not only with the integration of health related data on different levels (molecular, cellular, tissue, organ, person and population) but also with computationally demanding tasks of data mining, modelling, simulation and visualisation. New in-silico modelling and simulation has the potential to accelerate new drug design and development, improve understanding of underlying biological processes, support predictive medicine as well as provide novel tools for training and surgery planning.
The Conference Synergy between Research in Medical Informatics, Bioinformatics and Neuroinformatics, that took place in Brussels on December 14th, 2001 (http://14dec2001.ramit.be/index.html) marked the beginning of European Commission activities in BMI. A group of participants in this conference formulated the first R&D roadmap which was used as input for the formulation of activities for the 6th Framework Programme for research and technological development (FP6). While the first pilot BMI projects working on the aspects of genomic based medicine, such as INFOGENMED have been supported in FP5, more targeted calls have been issued in FP6 (http://www.cordis.lu/ist/directorate_c/ehealth/). You will find short descriptions of some of the current projects in this issue of the ERCIM News magazine.
Biomedical Informatics is one of the examples of new highly multidisciplinary ICT that lies at the crossroads with life sciences. The challenge for the future activities of the EU programme will be to create favourable environments for such multidisciplinary research and to accelerate the harvesting of societal and economic benefits.