European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures presents roadmap and identifies 35 projects

Brussels 19 October 2006The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) is presenting the first European roadmap for new, large-scale Research Infrastructures, based on an international peer-review, which was adopted by the Forum at its meeting of 28-29 September, 2006. The ESFRI Roadmap is the result of an intensive two-year consultation and peer review process involving over 1000 high level European and international experts. The Roadmap identifies 35 large scale infrastructure projects, at various stages of development, in seven key research areas including Environmental Sciences; Energy; Materials Sciences; Astrophysics, Astronomy, Particle and Nuclear Physics; Biomedical and Life Sciences; Social Sciences and the Humanities; Computation and data Treatment. The list covers among others projects as the European Polar Research Icebraker, high power lasers, biobanks, large optical telescopes, high power computing services and the upgrade of the European Social Survey.


As for the medicine-related topics, the ESFRI roadmap addresses 6 projects in the Biomedical and Life Sciences area and 7 projects in the Materials Sciences domain. Below follows an overview of these thirteen projects which are paying valuable services to contemporary health care, either in a direct or in an indirect way.

The massive restructuring and expansion of Biomedical and Life Sciences in what has been called "the century of Biology" is accompanied by major infrastructural requirements. A symbol of this realisation is the degree to which new or upgraded infrastructures for the Life Sciences are coming to dominate the infrastructure investment plans in other continents e.g. Australia, where the major focus in the government's plans is on the life sciences. The six infrastructures identified are often - but not invariably - multi-sited. Instead of massive physical projects or collections of new instruments, they are mainly collection of data and resources, storage and access systems which not only require long term maintenance and operation, but also continuous upgrades.

European Advanced Translational Research Infrastructure in Medicine (EATRIS)

The European Advanced Translational Research Infrastructure in Medicine will first establish a small number of research centres distributed in Europe, with the task of translating basic discoveries into clinical practice. Each centre will include cutting edge technologies for translational research and will cover one of the major disease fields: cardiovascular diseases, cancer, metabolic syndrome, brain disorders and infectious disorders. In later steps, additional dedicated centres are expected to join the EATRIS partnership.

European biobanking and biomolecular resources

The infrastructure, a pan-European and broadly accessible network of existing and de novo biobanks and biomolecular resources, will include samples from patients and healthy persons - with links to epidemiological and health care information, molecular genomic resources and biocomputational tools to make the best possible use of this resource for global biomedical research.

Mouse models for life sciences (INFRAFRONTIER)

Medically related Life Sciences use the mouse as a model system to understand the molecular basis of health and disease in humans. Infrafrontier will organise two complementary and interlinked distributed infrastructures:
  • "Phenomefrontier": a platform equipped with the latest technologies, in particular in vivo imaging and data management tools, for the phenotyping of medically relevant mouse models.
  • "Archivefrontier": a resource for state of the art archiving and dissemination of those mouse models and will consist in a major upgrade of the European Mouse Mutant Archive (EMMA).

Infrastructures for clinical trials and biotherapy

This infrastructure will connect existing national networks of clinical research centres and clinical trial units and will upgrade or create new facilities for the evaluation of innovative biotherapy agents. It will also make available professional data centres allowing high quality data management across the European Union and will establish connections with disease-oriented patients associations and registries, and disease-oriented investigators networks in order to foster patients' enrolment.

Integrated Structural Biology Infrastructure

This will be a network of distributed centres for integrated structural biology, linked into a network. All centres will maintain a set of core technologies such as protein production, NMR, crystallography, and different forms of microscopy. However, each centre will have a specific biological focus. The network will be organised in order to obtain multi-scale structural data and translate these data into functional knowledge.

Upgrade of European Bioinformatics Infrastructure

The infrastructure will be a secure but rapidly evolving platform for data collection, storage, annotation, validation, dissemination and utilisation, for the life sciences. It will be based around a substantial upgrade to the existing European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) handling primary data resources. It will however also integrate secondary data resources that are distributed across Europe.

Most material science techniques are available in relatively small laboratory environments, such as the atomic force microscope, or the atomic-layer deposition chambers, but when it comes to operating with increasing definition on larger pieces of materials, it is necessary to be able to "illuminate and reach" all atoms of the materials under investigation. This requires large facilities capable of providing the adequate "brilliances", much like the need for a strong light to explore a dark environment. Light photons are only one, but the most flexible, of the many complementary "probes" which can be used. On the other hand, the use of neutrons as a probe of matter is strongly complementary to photons. Seven Research Infrastructures have been identified to address the needs in this area.

Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI)

Extreme Light Infrastructure will be open to European scientists dedicated to the investigation and applications of laser matter interaction at the highest intensity level. ELI will comprise three branches: Ultra High Field Science, Attosecond Laser Science and the High Energy Beam Facility. ELI will have a large social benefit in medicine, material sciences and environment.

European Synchrotron Radiation Facility Upgrade

The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), located in Grenoble, is a joint facility supported and shared by 17 European countries and Israel. It operates the most powerful high energy synchrotron light source in Europe and brings together a wide range of disciplines including physics, chemistry and materials science as well as biology, medicine, geophysics and archaeology. There are many industrial applications, including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, petrochemicals and micro-electronics.

European Spallation Source for producing neutrons

The European Spallatation Source (ESS) will be the world's most powerful source of neutrons. Its built-in upgradeability - more than the initial 20 instruments, more power, more target stations - makes it the most cost-effective top tier source for 40 years or more. A genuine pan-European facility, it will serve 4000 users annually across many areas of science and technology.

Fine analysis of matter requires the complementary use of diverse "probes" and techniques: light rays, neutrons, NMR, computer modelling and simulations and so on. Intense beams of low energy neutrons create entirely new opportunities, including movies of nano-scale events, for real time, real size, in situ, in vivo and parametric measurements to elucidate structures, dynamics and functions of increasingly complex inorganic, organic and biomaterials and systems.

European X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL)

The European X-ray Free Electron Laser to be built in Hamburg, Germany, will be a world leading facility for the production of intense, short pulses of X-rays for scientific research in a wide range of disciplines.

ILL 20/20 Upgrade to produce slow neutrons

The reactor-based laboratory at the Institut Laue Langevin (ILL) is recognised as the world's most productive and reliable source of slow neutrons for the study of condensed matter, and its overall upgrade is the most cost-effective response in the short to medium term to users' requirements.

Access to new scientific areas will be strengthened through enhanced support facilities for users. The first such facility, the Partnership for Structural Biology - a joint project with 5 laboratories - opened in November 2005 providing special services, such as the growing of deuterated single crystals, for visiting research teams using the neutron and Free Electron Lasers and synchroton instruments on site.

Free Electron Lasers (IruvX-FEL)

Intense light beams from the Infrared to the Soft X-rays are the major probe to study the electronic properties of matter and will involve a very large user community. The development of Free Electron Lasers allows a new, virtually unexplored, regime of coherent light flashing with femto-second pulses. The IRUVX Consortium will join the resources now in construction and planned in Europe into a unique Research Infrastructure, allowing novel and powerful complementary instruments for the microscopic and the dynamical study, as well as an optimal service to users, prioritising the development and location of the specific beam lines.

Scientific challenges and opportunities will open for a wide range of scientific disciplines, ranging from nanosciences, materials and biomaterials sciences, plasma physics, molecular and cluster, femto- and nano- physics and chemistry, various connections to life, environmental, astrophysical and earth sciences and the development of technologies ranging from micro electronics to energy. Some novel emerging synchrotron techniques, like holographic coherent imaging or ultra fast pump-probe studies will greatly benefit from the enhanced beam properties. We can today only imagine some of these opportunities and it is likely that the most important use of soft-FELs have not yet even been thought of.

Pan-European Research Infrastructure for Nano-Structures (PRINS)

The Pan-European Research Infrastructure for Nano-Structures is the Research Infrastructure arm of a broader initiative, the ENIAC European Technology Platform. PRINS will bridge the area between research and market-driven applications and will provide Europe with the ability to master the revolutionary transition from Micro-electronics to Nano-electronics, i.e. down to the level of individual atoms.

For more information on the infrastructure projects, you can download the ESFRI roadmap.

Leslie Versweyveld

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