New standard helps bioscience researchers overcome data-sharing obstacles

Collaborators from 30 scientific organizations worldwide, led by researchers at the University of Oxford and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), have agreed on a common standard designed to enable life scientists from widely disparate fields to more consistently describe enormous and radically different databases. A commentary published in Nature Genetics, January 27, 2012, says the new framework, the Investigation-Study-Assay (ISA), allows scientists working in fields ranging from genetics to stem cell science to environmental studies to share huge quantities of otherwise incompatible data. The commentary is signed by 50-plus collaborators.

Winston Hide, associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics at HSPH, director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute’s new Center for Stem Cell Bioinformatics, and the paper’s senior author, said Harvard researchers have already generated new insights by using the standard to share massive data sets. “We can now find a relationship between experiments involving normal blood stem cells in fish and cancers in children,” said Hide in an ISA press release.

In the same release, Jules Griffin of the University of Cambridge, one of the commentary’s authors, compares the standard’s benefits to the way Facebook enables average users to create their own Web pages. “Suddenly you don’t need to be an expert in computing to get your data out to the rest of the world,” he said.

Read the ISA press release

Read the Nature Genetics commentary

Learn more


Winston Hide’s blog post