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European Commission funds EBI to do new research on synergies between bioinformatics and medical informatics


The European Commission has selected the EBI to coordinate a project that will stimulate and explore synergies between bioinformatics (the science of storing, retrieving and analysing large amounts of biological information) and medical informatics (the science of processing, sharing and using large amounts of medical information). The SYMBiomatics project will culminate in a White Paper that will inform the Commission’s funding policy on the synergy between these two rapidly growing areas. The aim is to facilitate and accelerate biomedical research and innovation, with the ultimate goal of improving Europe’s efficiency at developing better tools and systems for disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Building on decades of advances in deciphering the molecular components of living things, molecular and computational biologists are now synthesising the information that they’ve gathered, and are building a detailed understanding of cells, tissues, organs, organisms and populations. At the same time, clinical research has led to a better appreciation of the molecular basis of disease. Clinical scientists are amassing information that is helping them to decipher how variations in people’s genetic make-up can affect their likelihood of developing certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, or of developing an adverse response to particular drugs, such as the anti-coagulants used to treat some types of heart disease.

“The emerging discipline of biomedical informatics sits at the interface of the previously disparate worlds of bioinformatics and medical informatics,” says Graham Cameron, the EBI’s Associate Director and coordinator of the SYMBiomatics project. “The development of technologies that will allow scientific and clinical information to be shared and integrated more readily will expedite the creation of novel diagnostic, preventive and therapeutic methods, allowing people to lead longer, healthier lives.”

“It’s critical that the two fields of bioinformatics and medical informatics work together cooperatively to solve many common and complex problems,” says Gérard Comyn, Acting Director of the General Directorate Information Society and Media of the European Commission. “We predict that in the very near future these two previously separate disciplines will share vast amounts of information that will result in a massive improvement of the quality of life for European citizens.”

Working together over the next fifteen months, an executive committee comprising nine organisations from six different European Member States (UK, France, Italy, Spain, Greece and the Netherlands) will document the state of the art in biomedical informatics. The group will identify areas of maximum opportunity, by systematically collecting insights from experts in the field and by analysing the scientific literature. Areas of opportunity will then be documented and prioritised. The group’s findings will be presented at a meeting in early summer 2006, enabling further discussion by the wider community of bioinformaticians, medical informaticians, the growing number of clinical professionals whose work spans these domains and European policy makers. The project will culminate in a report that will summarise the project’s findings and will provide input to future European scientific and funding policy.

“Because there are many potential synergies between bioinformatics and medical informatics, it’s important to document and prioritise them so that we can identify the fastest route towards a healthier Europe,” explains Ilias Iakovidis, Deputy Head of the European Commission’s ICT for Health Unit.

Sarah Sherwood | alfa
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