Nordic Information for Action eScience Center (NIASC)
The objective of the Nordic Information for Action eScience Centre is to develop computer-based tools that allow easier tracking of Nordic biobank samples and data and enhance the capability to use data from national health registries and biobanks in the health care sector. The new tools are to be put into practice via a pilot project for improved, more cost-effective cancer screening programmes.
The centre emphasises the importance of ethical aspects of these tools and will engage in widespread dissemination to the public in order to increase the transparency of research that draws upon biobanks and registries.
'Before we’re done, some of this research will be helping patients.' Joakim Dillner
The work has begun
The Nordic Information for Action e-Science Center (NIASC) was launched on 1 January 2014 and held its kick-off conference on 17 January. All partners were in attendance to get the centre off to a running start. NordForsk was there and spoke with Centre Director and Professor Joakim Dillner at the end of the day:
- It was a very inspiring meeting. I knew beforehand that this was a very strong consortium, but today shows that it is even stronger than I thought.
What will be the biggest challenge for the NIASC?
- As the British often say, the devil is in the details. I think that will be the NIASC’s greatest challenge. While there is much that we in the Nordic region share, there are also many differences – from how data is formatted to the procedures for implementation and even how new research findings are applied to helping patients. Today we’ve seen that we very clearly agree on what resources we have and what our goals are. I’m confident we will work well together to achieve them. We have the benefit of a solid basis to start from and we’ll be learning from each other's practices.
What is the most important result from today’s meeting?
- It was extremely important that we had all the persons responsible for the national biobanks, cancer registries and major cancer studies gathered in the same room. That is rare! It is precisely this kind of talking together and sharing experience across the Nordic region that is so important for research activities and applying results to benefit patients. Before we’re done, some of this research will be helping patients.
The heart of the centre
Professor Dillner knows that a centre with its many partners spread throughout the Nordic region, as well as Poland and Estonia, will require a special blend of scientific overview and organisational talent. He selected 31-year-old post-doctoral fellow Karin Sundström for this role. She is a physician trained at the Karolinska Institutet who recently completed her doctorate. Dr Sundström dedicates 50% of her time to the NIASC, while the other half goes to research on women's risk of cervical cancer. Her focus is on existing screening methods using gynaecological cell tests and on emerging screening methods for detecting human papillomavirus (HPV).
'One of our main objectives is to introduce, within five years, individually customised screening for one type of cancer under at least one national screening programme within the Nordic region.' Karin Sundström
NordForsk asked Dr Sundström for some insight into the heart of the centre:
- I am project coordinator and part of the NIASC management team along with Joakim Dillner. My role is to coordinate the centre’s activities and make sure that the practical framework for carrying through with our scientific ideas is in place.
How, specifically, will you be coordinating activities at the NIASC?
- We will be conducting annual meetings and there will be ongoing communication between the steering group and the working groups. And I will be in close touch with every team. Several teams are also part of other national or Nordic contexts, such as bioinformatics and biobank collaborations, which provide natural interfaces for discussion and networks.
- One of our main objectives is to introduce, within five years, individually customised screening for one type of cancer under at least one national screening programme within the Nordic region. We will need e-science to achieve this, both to develop our cancer risk assessment and to find good e-tools that can call people in for screening at different intervals.
Text: Linn Hoff Jensen
Photos: Kim Wendt/NordForsk og Per Westergård/NordForsk