Imagine a day when researchers around the globe will be able to combine brain-imaging data from thousands of sources and query the new dataset using a few keystrokes and a simple search engine.
This is the future envisioned by researchers working at the Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives (HBHL) NeuroHub project, an advanced analytics platform for brain research run by Jean-Baptiste Poline at Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro) and Bettina Kemme at the McGill School of Computer Science.
Once built, NeuroHub will provide researchers at McGill and beyond with powerful open source tools and software to explore multi-dimensional brain and health data (e.g. genetics, imaging, behavioural, etc.) collected using different modalities, scales and technologies.
But, the promise of NeuroHub and other neuroinformatics platforms like it will be difficult to realize without a shift in how scientific data and resources are shared, says Dr. Poline.
“If you want to understand the complex system of the brain, you can't do it in your one laboratory,” says Dr. Poline. “It's going to be a multi-laboratory, multi-institution, multi-country task, and that's why making research products available and well documented is very important.”
Unlocking data for new discoveries
Underpinning Dr. Poline’s work are the principles of Open Science, which foster collaboration, transparency, and reproducibility.
Making data open provides a quality check and allows researchers to more quickly formulate and investigate new hypotheses, which accelerates the pace of research. Open access to massive amounts of research data has given us the Human Genome Project and the Large Hadron Collider.
In neuroscience, the data deluge promises equally game-changing discoveries, but they will come slowly unless the research community adopts new standards around the open publication of data and other research products.
“I would say there is an ethical obligation to make our data open and accessible while protecting personal information,” says Dr. Poline. “If we don’t, then we are just reinforcing the status quo.” Dr. Poline, whose work is supported by the Ludmer Centre for Neuroinformatics & Mental Health, is an advocate of the FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable), which are guidelines developed by academia, industry, and funding agencies to promote ethical data reuse.
This week, NeuroHub will host some of the foremost experts in neuroinformatics data management to tackle interoperability—the data and metadata standards that will allow infrastructures to talk to each other. Making systems interoperable will help pave the way for the other principles.
In a FAIR world, says Dr. Poline, “we will have enough data for powerful statistical analyses and machine learning applications, and we will spend a lot more time thinking about good questions rather than finding the tools and the data.”
Making Open Neuroscience Infrastructure Interoperable (MONII 2.0) is taking place on March 27, 2019 at The Neuro. The workshop is sponsored by the Canadian Open Neuroscience Platform (CONP), the International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility (INCF), and the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute (TOSI).
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