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On February 4, organisations around the globe mark World Cancer Day. Through its involvement in ambitious EU projects such as EOSC4Cancer, EUCANIMAGE, canSERV, and EUCAIM, BBMRI-ERIC improves the accessibility and interoperability of European collections of cancer samples.
This article zooms in on the EUropean Federation for CAncer IMages (EUCAIM) project and how BBMRI’s IT team is working to develop a federated digital infrastructure that will advance the application of AI for cancer diagnostics and treatment. This enables researchers to access and share cancer images securely and collaboratively.
Decades of cancer research has resulted in vast collections of data for different cancer types, including cancer images and their underlying datasets. Although these data represent an incredibly rich resource, they are stored at repositories and clinical centres all over Europe and are often hard to access.
Another knotty problem is how to provide researchers, clinicians, and innovators with access to these medical images without placing at risk EU values and regulations related to ethics, trust, security, and personal data protection.
The BBMRI-ERIC IT team is solving these problems through the European Cancer Imaging Initiative and the associated EUropean Federation for CAncer IMages (EUCAIM) project, both of which launched in January 2023.
The European Cancer Imaging Initiative is one of the key elements of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, a European Commission commitment to fight cancer and develop a more resilient EU response made in light of the steadily increasing cancer burden in the EU.
The Initiative connects cancer images and databases to create an open, accessible, and user-friendly infrastructure of this data. The success of the Initiative rests heavily on the outcomes of the EUCAIM project. EUCAIM links national and European strategies, hospital networks, and research repositories with cross-border cancer image data.
Over the last ten years, BBMRI-ERIC’s IT team has developed critical tools that support the visibility and accessibility of biobanking samples and data. This core infrastructure has now been deployed as the backbone of the new EUCAIM Dashboard to link together and provide access to cancer images and the underlying datasets.
Petr Holub, BBMRI’s Chief Information Officer, reflects on the strong impact of this significant achievement for the cancer research, biobanking and wider life sciences research community:
“BBMRI-ERIC is proud to see the adoption of tools that were developed in the context of BBMRI IT and the Federated Platform, the Directory (EUCAIM Catalogue based on Molgenis Directory app), the Locator (EUCAIM Explorer), and the Negotiator.
“These tools make it possible for the EUCAIM community to deliver their first release of the infrastructure within the first nine months of the project start date.”
The EUCAIM consortium released the first preview of the cancer image platform used in the project in late September 2023. The BBMRI-ERIC Directory and Negotiator service, developed over many years by the BBMRI IT team, serves as the basis for this platform. Researchers, biobankers, as well as patients, donors, and the organisations that represent them, use the Directory to access information about European biobanks that share their anonymised sample and data collections and to form collaborations.
By deploying this tool in the EUCAIM project, the BBMRI IT team are making it easier for these users to access cancer images via a robust, trustworthy platform and is taking a significant step towards the goal to create the cancer image infrastructure. Heimo Mueller, BBMRI IT Senior Scientist, explains how essential the tools are to the success of this project:
“Using BBMRI tools in EUCAIM allows us to establish a brand-new connection between the biobanking catalogue and the federated search function to support the whole data discovery process chain.”
In practice, using these tools to combine the central EUCAIM catalogue with the federated search function will make the entire data discovery process easier. Users who search the catalogue for cancer-related images can get results quickly and easily. The comprehensive, and secure, digital discovery network that connects all EUCAIM members makes this efficiency possible.
As a key consortium partner in the EUCAIM project, the BBMRI IT team brings years of experience to the table in developing tools that biobankers and researchers can use to collect, provide access to and request samples and data. Kurt Majcen, IT Scientist and Project Manager, underlines the unique nature of the tools and services BBMRI provides and deploys in projects like EUCAIM:
“These tools already substantially contributed to early project milestones, serving as a proof of concept for the composition of the final EUCAIM infrastructure and how it can be used by its users/stakeholders. The tools will be further developed, integrated, and made operational in EUCAIM so they can become part of the planned infrastructure.”
Developing data infrastructures also comes into play in EUCAIM, where the BBMRI IT team is shaping a secure, effective, and easily accessible pan-European federated infrastructure for cancer image data.
This infrastructure will drive AI innovations, support further developments in personalised medicine, and build a firm foundation for the next generation of cancer diagnostics and treatments.
By supporting the deployment of the tool and Negotiator service in EUCAIM, the IT team is working to ensure the project’s success by establishing and strengthening data use/reuse processes, ranging from data discovery to data access and data analysis.
Biobankers and researchers who want to request samples and data can use the BBMRI-ERIC Negotiator service within EUCAIM (Negotiator 2.0). The connection between this service and the EUCAIM Catalogue reduces the number of steps they need to take establish availability and request samples and data.
This simplification is especially valuable if researchers need to contact multiple prospective biobanks at the same time when filing a request. The bottom line: Biobankers and researchers will be able to access cancer images more quickly and easily once this tool is deployed in the EUCAIM project.
Directory and Negotiator work together and thus make the researcher’s life easier. IT Scientist and Project Manager Kurt Majcen explains how:
“The researcher can filter collections in the Directory and do a preselection on them. With one click, the filter and collection information are transferred to Negotiator, and a negotiation request is initiated. An automated backward procedure, also triggered by a single click, allows the researcher to refine the filtering and preselection process again.”
As EUCAIM progresses, BBMRI’s IT team will lead efforts to further develop the Directory and Negotiator tools for use in the project, as well as to incorporate the DKFZ Locator tool as the basis for the EUCAIM Explorer. The Locator, developed at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and already part of BBMRI’s Federated Platform, will establish a novel connection between the biobanking catalogue and the federated search function.
Prof. Dr. Martin Lablans, Head of the Development Department at DKFZ, explains:
“The Locator allows researchers to work with distributed data as if it were centralised – while in fact, data stays local at each institution, connected via the open-source Bridgehead software. Federation is the key to GDPR-compliant data sharing.”
These efforts provide crucial support for both the project and the European Cancer Imaging Initiative by connecting resources and databases; the BBMRI-ERIC IT Team are delighted to be at the heart of this.
The result will be a broadly accessible and user-friendly infrastructure of cancer images where the power of imaging and artificial intelligence will be instrumental to providing optimal support for cancer patients, clinicians, and researchers.