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LIFES: From Reusable Data to New Treatments and Faster Diagnoses

Early diagnosis, new treatments, and personalised care: all of these are possible if we can better unlock the wealth of information hidden in health data. Unfortunately, this data is often poorly organised, difficult to access, and not interoperable. The new international Leiden Institute for FAIR and Equitable Science (LIFES) aims to change that.

As a public-private partnership, LIFES seeks to improve global data reuse by applying the principles of FAIR data. FAIR data is Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable, with attention also given to fair rules for data access and privacy.

How substances in your blood reveal illness

At the Metabolomics & Analytics Centre, led by Professor Thomas Hankemeier, researchers measure various substances in the blood, such as metabolites, fats, and proteins. These measurements are crucial for identifying early markers of diseases. For example, changes in certain bile acids and oxidised fatty acids can indicate future dementia.

‘These early markers not only help in early disease detection,’ explains Hankemeier, ‘but also in predicting the most suitable treatment. Additionally, markers help understand what happens in the body at the molecular level and which processes take place. This can lead to the development of new treatments, especially for diseases that currently lack effective treatments, such as dementia.’​​​​​​​

LIFES sets a new standard for reusable data

To find such markers, as much health data as possible is needed from citizens and patients. In an ideal world, researchers worldwide would seamlessly reuse each other's data. ‘Unfortunately, several problems currently hinder global data reuse,’ says Professor Barend Mons, founding director of LIFES and professor at LUMC and LACDR. ‘Data is poorly findable, poorly organised, and limited in accessibility. Additionally, data is often not easily readable by computers, and data from different projects is not well interoperable. That’s why we want to set a new standard with LIFES.’

'We hope to contribute to the advancement of science, but also ensure the global community profits equally from these developments.'

‘Through this collaboration, we not only contribute to the advancement of scientific research but also ensure that the benefits of these developments are shared equitably across the global community.’

LIFES offers training, infrastructure and collaboration

The institute aims to build a global network of public and private organisations that will apply the FAIR principles. LIFES partners offer training, data management support, and advanced analysis methods like machine learning. Additionally, partners provide the necessary infrastructure to make data equitably accessible and reusable. Hankemeier: ‘We want to ensure that everyone has access to these services, stimulate collaborations, and take the lead in securing funding to make this all possible.’

Multi-omics: A holistic picture of health

By combining and analysing data from different levels, researchers can gain a more comprehensive understanding of biological processes and complex diseases. This approach is called multi-omics. Think of a combination of genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and so on. Genomics focuses on an organism's DNA, transcriptomics on gene expression, proteomics on proteins, and metabolomics on metabolites and small molecules in an organism. In this context, easily linking data obtained from one patient to that of another patient with similar symptoms is very interesting. It is one of LIFES's goals to make this possible in a safe manner.

‘Betere gezondheidszorg voor iedereen’

At LACDR and specifically the Metabolomics & Analytics Centre, researchers will also work on making data "FAIR", an effort lead by  Erik Schultes, Amy Harms and Alida Kindt. ‘We mainly focus on data for mass spectrometry and multi-omics,’ says Hankemeier (see sidebar). ‘We will develop a strategy to combine health data with existing knowledge and multi-omics data measured by ourselves and others. This will help us better understand how diseases develop and how we can treat them. It will also teach us a lot about tackling complex diseases with different subtypes and the underlying mechanisms that cause diseases.’

‘This will help to diagnose patients earlier, find the right diagnosis the first time, and to find the most efficient treatment. Thus, an initiative in our data management will eventually lead to better healthcare for us all.’

Further reading

More information can be found in the press release of the GO FAIR Foundation on the LIFES website.

Collaboratin for FAIR data reuse

The Leiden Institute for FAIR and Equitable Science (LIFES) is an initiative for an international public-private partnership between eleven academic and private founding parties: the GO FAIR Foundation, Copyright Clearance Center, FAIRscholar, HINQ, Leiden University Medical Center, the Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research (Leiden University), Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Roche Nederland B.V., Sage, TNO, and the University of Twente.

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