BELIEF Technology Report with recommendations on Biomedical Informatics Grid infrastructure

Geneva 19 February 2007The BELIEF project has published a report on the Grid infrastructure needs for Biomedical Informatics as a stepping stone for preparing the services and research of Biology and Medicine. The BELIEF report is the result of a brainstorming session at CERN in October of 2006. The session focused on three complementary aspects of Biomedical Informatics: technological, organisational/policy and user-oriented issues. These components combined should form a solid basis for the promotion of convergence between the areas of Biology and Medicine and, via Grid technology, make feasible the implementation of a large-scale platform.

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The report recommends that the Grid infrastructure must be viewed as a more sophisticated platform, and not merely a means of sharing data and computational resources. Indeed it are the services which respond to user needs that are key to promoting adoption of eInfrastructures in the field. In this light a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) model should implement a component based approach to structure Grid middleware functionality.

The report says that the area of Health Informatics poses a number of requirements and imposes specialized demands on the underlying Grid technology. Existing Grid middleware is not sufficient. Hence new standards are needed to support eHealth. The targeted middleware should be able to run a large number of diverse applications simultaneously, each with a different set of requirements, and process diverse data collections. The resulting Grid infrastructure should be viewed as a sophisticated integrated platform. Hence the report says it is imperative to adopt a component based approach to structure Grid middleware functionality. The resulting health care Grid will be highly configurable and multi-platform, able to facilitate a wide range of hardware devices. One expects a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) model can implement this architecture.

Another desired characteristic which also happens to be missing from current Grid implementations, the report notes, is advanced resource management and allocation. Up to now, this process mainly manipulates computational nodes. However, resources distributed across a health care Grid will include all kinds of hardware and medical equipment, and therefore a more expanded and dynamic management process must be adopted according to the report.

The report says also work on policies needs to be done. It recommends to handle these in a structured manner, preferably starting with looking at the needs of biomedical personnel that will use the new Grid infrastructure. It is important to manage expectations to be realistic at all levels.

This work should culminate in a standardisation procedure that will result in a common framework of standards. These standards should be acceptable to both the Grid and medical communities. Convergence between the two communities is considered essential.

Legal issues are also seen as a potential obstacle that needs to be handled with care. Legal and political issues need to be seen from a biomedical point of view. Medical data storage and handling is currently entangled in all kinds of regulations and of highly private nature. But it must be posible to share research data between scientific communities.

The report concludes that the promotion of the Grid capabilities if used as a platform to create an electronic biomedical and health care environment is essential to secure financial support from for instance investors and funding agencies. Real-life scenarios and simulations should be developed that can convince people of the benefits in the short and the long run of the new approach.

The report is available from the Belief project website.


Ad Emmen

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