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Looking back on 2021 
and forward to 2022

To all DTL partners, contributors and collaborators,


Dear colleagues, 

Hopefully, 2022 has started well for you. May it bring you good health and more opportunities to meet freely with family, friends and colleagues. 

Last year, the DTL team worked hard to realise our ambition to strengthen the Dutch digital life sciences infrastructure and expertise base. We have contributed to many initiatives and projects and have collaborated with health and life science experts in the Netherlands and across Europe. Below, we have compiled an overview of our highlights in 2021, as well as an outlook of our projects and goals for 2022.  

In 2021, cooperation with the Bioinformatics and Systems Biology Research School BioSB was intensified to establish a strong collective platform for digital life sciences. The ELIXIR-NL team participated in many projects, contributing to Europe’s sustainable infrastructure for biological data. Moreover, NWO, the Dutch Research Council, asked DTL to co-lead the establishment of a Thematic Digital Competence Centre for the broader health and life sciences domain, which is planned to launch in spring 2022.

Crucially, the €68.5M Dutch government grant that was awarded to Health-RI in 2021 will allow the realisation of a national data infrastructure for health research and innovation. We are greatly looking forward to collaborating with our partners in achieving this goal. The DTL team has contributed significantly to the preparation of the Health-RI programme, and will play a key role in the coordination of part of its work processes. DTL has therefore strengthened its team with new colleagues in 2021, and will continue to grow in 2022. 

We could not have achieved our ambitions and goals without you. Thank you very much for your continued support toward the accomplishment of a strong, collective, FAIR-based ecosystem for research & development in digital health and life sciences. 

Ruben Kok, Director DTL

NEW PARTNERS

In 2021 we have welcomed four new private DTL partners:

As of January 2022, the DTL partnership hosts 23 public and 23 private partner organisations who contribute to building DTL as the collective national platform for digital life sciences. Interested in joining? Contact the DTL team via info[at]dtls.nl.

Digital Competence Centre for Life Sciences and Health research

In 2021, the Dutch Research Council NWO launched a programme to develop so-called Thematic Digital Competence Centres (TDCC) as a new instrument in the national science landscape. Three TDCCs will be established to connect a broad array of stakeholders in the fields of science & innovation:
  • Natural and Engineering Sciences (NES)
  • Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH)
  • Life Sciences and Health (LSH)
In autumn 2021, NWO asked DTL to help prepare the Thematic Digital Competence Centre for Life Sciences and Health (TDCC-LSH) to form a national platform that supports building competencies and capacities in research data, software and IT in the health and life sciences domain. NWO has planned a yearly investment in the TDCC-LSH of almost 1M€ for the next ten years. The TDCC's role fits in well with the platforms already established in 2014 by DTL and, more recently, Health-RI. The TDCC will therefore be set up as part of these existing networks. In October 2021, the DTL Partner Advisory Committee discussed the digital challenges that are commonly encountered in health and life sciences research (see Word cloud), and helped formulate ideas for activities to be performed by the TDCC-LSH relating to these challenges, such as the implementation of FAIR, the interoperability of data resources and workflows, and capacity building in data stewardship and analysis. The ideas raised by the DTL partner representatives will be used as inspiration for the initial TDCC roadmap. NWO plans to launch the TDCC-LSH in spring 2022.
 

Strengtening FAIR-based data stewardship

Data stewardship and data management skills are essential in life science research. In fact, they are needed in all areas of data intensive research and innovation. DTL, convinced that data stewards will play an important role in enabling researchers to move towards FAIR data, has been instrumental in driving good data stewardship practices for many years. DTL's ambitions in this regard align very well with the policies of the Dutch Government and national funders towards Open Science (NPOS and ZonMw) and the realisation of a national FAIR-based data infrastructure for health research and innovation (Health-RI).  


Many of DTL's community efforts focus on exchanging good data steward practices and connecting initiatives and projects that help research organisations in professionalising data stewardship. DTL therefore actively contributes to building a strong community of professional data stewards in the Netherlands. The DTL team and community also have been very actively promoting good data stewardship, such as through the global Research Data Alliance (RDA). In 2021, DTL co-chaired and participated in various RDA task groups of the Professionalising Data Stewardship Interest Group and the Education and Training on Handling Research Data Interest Group
 

DTL's Data Stewards Interest Group

Since 2017, DTL has provided the Data Stewards Interest Group (DTL DSIG) as a platform for data stewards and other data experts to share experiences and practices. The platform also attracts experts from abroad, with a mailing list and community that has grown to over 600 participants. 

The DSIG community met six times in 2021, with universities and institutes taking turns in chairing these meetings and highlighting their local hot topics through inspirational presentations and interactive discussions. Topics included data privacy, FAIR data, Data Access Committees, examples of local Digital Competence Centers, data use agreements, reproducibility, training and making Covid data accessible for shared research. Shared notes and presentations can be found here

The DSIG community is coordinated by Mijke Jetten (DTL) and Irina van Dijk (UMC Utrecht). If you want to join this very active community, feel free to subscribe to the mailing list, participate in the slack channel and/or check out the upcoming meetings
 

Health-RI Data Stewardship Community 

A related community initiative has been set up within the context of Health-RI, with a focus on health data organisations. The Health-RI Data Stewardship Community also met six times in 2021, and participants discussed topics such as the FAIRness of organisations, Covid projects, the Handbook for Adequate Natural Data Stewardship (HANDS), ELSI aspects, and DMP support. With DTL, a focus meeting was organised on the topic of Data publishing and Archival, with speakers from Amsterdam UMC, ZonMw, UMCU and SURF. The breakout sessions clearly highlighted common needs for rich metadata and metadata standardisation, and for proper funding for data stewards capacity in health research and healthcare organisations. DTL connects the various data stewardship communities where possible, recognising the specific needs and priorities in the health and life sciences fields.
 

Shaping the FAIR Data agenda of the National Open Science Programme (NPOS)

Along other organisations, the DTL team and several DTL partners are closely involved in the design of the FAIR Data programme of the National Open Science Programme (NPOS). Realising a FAIR-based ecosystem that supports collaborative and reproducible research is one of the three pillars of NPOS, which has asked DTL director Ruben Kok to lead the NPOS FAIR Data activities. In this role he chairs the FAIR Data Table that is being set up to align organisations in the Dutch science domains around their FAIR ambitions, and to collectively build a strong FAIR programme. Four key actions will form the backbone of the NPOS FAIR Data programme for the upcoming five to ten years, linking the Dutch research ecosystem closely to the European Open Science Cloud
  1. Capacity building: the establishment of a professional community of skilled data stewards;
  2. FAIR implementation of digital research outputs and associated FAIR metadata to enable optimal (re)use;
  3. Development of national FAIR data services and infrastructure to support FAIR implementation; 
  4. Development of a national trust framework for access to sensitive FAIR data that cannot be openly shared.
These actions will be worked out in more detail in 2022, in a collaborative work process among the NPOS stakeholders. The first Dutch FAIR Data Conference is planned for autumn 2022. If your organisation or initiative is interested in joining the NPOS FAIR Data Programme, please contact ruben.kok[at]dtls.nl, or mascha.jansen[at]dtls.nl.
 

Formalisation of Data Stewardship as a profession

DTL is particularly proud of the report on the professionalisation of data stewardship by DTL team members Mijke Jetten, Celia van Gelder and Mascha Jansen, with the help of many colleagues in the field. The report was published early 2021 and delivered as part of the National Open Science Programme. Markedly, the report has already led to the formalisation of the data steward position in the job classification systems of the Associations of Dutch Universities (Universities-NL) and University Medical Centres (NFU). Similarly, within the Universities of Applied Sciences (HBO), a dedicated working group is working on formalising the position of data stewards in their research ecosystem.

A formal job profile is a crucial step towards the professionalisation of data stewardship. It not only contributes to the recognition and appreciation of data professionals, but also underlines the need for adequate training provisioning, capacity building and career prospects for data stewards. Moreover, it contributes to a more mature research support and ultimately benefits research integrity.

Helis Academy ''FAIR Data Stewardship for the Life Sciences''

In March 2021, the third edition of the Helis Academy “FAIR Data Stewardship for the Life Sciences” course was organised for an audience of 35 enthusiastic and motivated data stewards and researchers. The intensive and practical course featured over 25 guest speakers speaking on topics such as data management plans, preregistration, informed consent, data storage, archiving data, data and software carpentries and FAIR data. All course materials have been made available via the ELIXIR Training Portal TeSS. The organisation of the 2022 edition is currently in progress targeting data stewards and researchers in health research.

 

FAIRsFAIR project is preparing for the European Open Science Cloud

Finishing in February 2022, the European FAIRsFAIR project now has almost achieved everything it set out to do: offering practical solutions and guidance to implement the FAIR principles throughout the research data lifecycle. DTL offered expertise on FAIR semantics and interoperability as well as on metadata and the FAIR Data Point (FDP) technology. In 2021 the FDP was brought to a broader range of repository providers, and stepwise guidelines were created to describe how one can assure FAIRness. The project further offers guidance to researchers and data stewards on the implementation of FAIR aspects such as semantic interoperability, machine-actionable metadata standards and persistent identifiers, often regarded as some of the more difficult aspects of FAIR data. 

BUILDING A DIGITAL LIFE SCIENCES PLATFORM

DTL, BioSB and ELIXIR-NL have worked closely together for many years, and have decided to integrate their activities into a national digital life sciences platform. Together, they will join forces, bundle their expertise, networks and programmes, and align content related to data stewardship, shared research facilities, data services infrastructure, data analysis and computational modelling. The core mission of this joint platform is to facilitate the shared development of methodology, technology, expertise and infrastructure related to digital life sciences research and to make these available for the broader life sciences research and innovation communities.


Digital Life Sciences

The study of biological phenomena and processes and how they are influenced by external biotic and abiotic factors is at the core of the digital life sciences field covered by DTL, BioSB and ELIXIR-NL. This ranges from molecular and cellular biology and related -omics technologies, to biological organisms, ecosystems and production systems. Unravelling the complexity of these phenomena to the extent that we understand and can predict their behavior, requires strongly data-intensive and modeling steps in research, working across organisations and disciplines. The digital life sciences platform assembles the expertise and national partnerships to tackle these challenges along the entire research data life cycle, and in close international alignment. Capacity building through training and community building are important elements of the organised shared activities.
 

Collective communication

In the digital life sciences platform, the three networks will operate as one collaborative organisation. In the course of 2021, the websites of ELIXIR-NL and BioSB have been combined in a collective digital life sciences website, hosted by the DTL. The collaborative platform will carry the DTL logo, adjusted to express the collective ambition in digital life sciences. The BioSB and ELIXIR-NL logos will continue to be used within the platform in the digital life sciences research and education programmes and related infrastructure. As of this year, the organisations will further combine their communication and jointly publish a regular Digital Life Sciences newsletter.

 

ELIXIR-NL 2021 HIGHLIGHTS

In 2021 the ELIXIR-NL community has again been very active in the European landscape of life science data initiatives coördinated in ELIXIR. ELIXIR has set up broad collaborations of European scientists in fields of digital life science infrastructure in platforms and communities. Dutch Principle Investigators co-lead the ELIXIR Interoperability Platform, the Training Platform, the Rare Disease Community, the Metabolomics Community, as well as the three recently added ELIXIR Communities in Food and Nutrition, Microbial Biotechnology and Toxicology. The ELIXIR highlights detailed below were achieved with the involvement of ELIXIR-NL colleagues.
 

Data stewardship Wizard

The Data Stewardship Wizard (DSW) tool was developed by the ELIXIR-NL team in collaboration with ELIXIR-Czech Republic for guiding data management planning. In 2021, the DSW celebrated its 3rd anniversary. New functionalities have been introduced, pertaining to both the technical features and the content of the underlying knowledge model. The latter is the result of collaboration with data stewardship experts from all countries in ELIXIR in the European CONVERGE project, where DSW and ELIXIR’s RDMkit are connected. The Data Stewardship Wizard is now recommended as a resource for data stewardship knowledge by several funders, e.g. the European Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).
 

Streamlining life science data management across Europe

ELIXIR-NL colleagues actively contribute in ELIXIR-CONVERGE, the European project that aims to help standardise life science data management across Europe. ELIXIR-NL's well organised Data Stewards Community is directly connected to the European Data Managers Network. ELIXIR-NL is co-leading the work about Training & Capacity Building in Data Management, leading to a large number of data stewardship courses in Europe. Dutch contributions are also aimed at defining learning paths and setting standards for controlled vocabularies for FAIR training materials. The Data Stewardship Wizard is an essential part of the work on the RDMkit, offering guidelines, information, and pointers to help overcome data management problems throughout the life science research data’s life cycle. The CONVERGE project also plays a role in the management of Covid data: per request of the European Commission, work packages have been added to deal with human and virus surveillance data. ELIXIR-NL is participating in both to learn about approaches taken by other countries and to connect the work around Covid data in the Netherlands.


NL contributions to cross-node ELIXIR projects

Many Dutch researchers are actively involved in ELIXIR Implementation Studies that connect national nodes across Europe. These projects aim to co-develop life sciences data resources, bioinformatics tools and services. This way, ELIXIR helps to capture and sustain good practices developed in bioinformatics teams across European countries, and to extend the repertoire of digital life sciences services in Europe. ELIXIR-NL has been active and successful in participating in new Implementation Studies that will be starting in 2022. Among the topics addressed in these studies are implementing Federated EGA to support management of sensitive data, container orchestration, extending the ELIXIR Training Platform, and strengthening the communities for Rare Diseases and for Food & Nutrition. For information on the finalised and ongoing projects with involvement of ELIXIR-NL colleagues, please check out the ELIXIR website
 

WikiPathways included as ELIXIR-NL service

In 2021 ELIXIR-NL set out to implement a new procedure to add services to the node service delivery plan. Also, WikiPathways, the highly cited, CCZero knowledge base of biological processes, was included to the ELIXIR-NL Services list.
 

ELIXIR-NL contribution to the BioSB Conference

The BioSB Conference 2021 also hosted the first ELIXIR-NL retreat, set up to convene the ELIXIR-NL community. Two sessions with guest speakers from the ELIXIR-NL community highlighted work in ELIXIR-NL Communities (Microbial Biotechnology, Food and Nutrition and Interoperability) and an assembly of ELIXIR-related topics bundled in an ELIXIR-NL Inspirations session (FAIRification, research data management, analysis of -omics data, proteomics analysis). 
 

Upcoming ELIXIR All Hands meeting 2022 in Amsterdam

The 8th ELIXIR All Hands meeting will take place 7-10 June 2022 in the Eye film museum in Amsterdam. The meeting unites members of the European ELIXIR community and collaborators from partner organisations, in order to review ELIXIR’s achievements and activities so far and discuss plans for the future. Registration opens in March 2022.

BIOINFORMATICS & SYSTEMS BIOLOGY COMMUNITY (BioSB)

BioSB constitutes the national network of Dutch research groups in bioinformatics and systems biology. As a community, BioSB is focused on knowledge exchange and training in bioinformatics and systems biology in the Netherlands, a crucial contribution to the development of the Dutch digital life sciences field. BioSB organises a yearly conference and Hot Topic meetings on state-of-the-art approaches in bioinformatics and systems biology. In addition, a diverse course programme is offered to train specialists in bioinformatics and systems biology. 
 

BioSB Conference 2021 

The BioSB 2021 Conference, held on June 15-16, was once again a very successful online event, with over 300 academia and industry participants. The conference programme offered strong keynote lectures by Kathleen Marchal, Edda Klipp and Sarah Teichmann, 12 parallel sessions, as well as over 50 posters. Dr. Joske Ubels (Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology) was the winner of the BioSB Young Investigator Award 2021 for her thesis on predicting treatment benefit using transcriptomic and genomic data. The BioSB 2021 Conference was organised by the Eindhoven University of Technology and Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology, together with DTL and the BioSB research school.
 

SAVE the date! 2022 BioSB Conference in June

After two years of online events, the BioSB 2022 Conference will be held in-person again on Tuesday 28 and Wednesday 29 June in conference centre De Werelt in Lunteren. Furthermore, the YoungCB is planning to organise a couple of interesting events, such as the annual PhD retreat, a symposium together with RSG Belgium and Luxembourg and a company visit. Join them by sending an email to rsg-netherlands@iscbsc.org. 

BioSB Hot Topics

The new BioSB Hot Topics committee has started organising their first Hot Topics meetings. Aiming for an onsite event, the first edition of 2022 is expected to be held in the first quarter of the year and will be focused on next level approaches in Computational Immunology.
 

BioSB Course programme

As part of the BioSB advanced course programme, three training courses were organised in 2021: Algorithms for Biological Networks (co-organised with Wageningen University), Machine Learning (co-organised with Amsterdam UMC) and Integrated Modeling and Optimization (co-organised with TU Eindhoven). Despite the Covid pandemic, the courses attracted close to 50 students. Upcoming courses from the BioSB research school are listed below:
  • RNA-seq data analysis, 9-13 May 2022 in Breda (registration open);
  • Systems Medicine, June 2022
  • Algorithms for Genomics, 10-14 October 2022;
  • Machine Learning, October 2022;
  • Integrated modeling and opimization, December 2022.
More courses are planned for this year and will be announced soon. Please check the BioSB pages on the DTL website for the latest information.

HEALTH-RI REALISING A NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE FOR HEALTH RESEARCH AND INNOVATION


Health-RI has rapidly taken shape as the national initiative connecting biomedical and health research communities around a common goal: the realisation of a collective national data infrastructure enabling health research and innovation. 2021 has been a very successful year for Health-RI, as it was one of the first few initiatives to receive an investment from the National Growth Fund. Markedly, the Dutch Government awarded €68.5M to Health-RI to realise its ambitions. This is an unprecedented investment for an initiative like this in the Netherlands.

From 2022 until 2028, the Health-RI Foundation will guide the realisation of the Health-RI infrastructure as a public service environment. The FAIR-based health data infrastructure will be set up with a broad range of public and private organisations. Initially, Health-RI will endeavour to make data generated in healthcare accessible for research and innovation. Eight regional node clusters will be established to connect regional organisations that aggregate health data and perform health research. Through three ministries, the Dutch government has also committed to join forces with Health-RI to remove common obstacles for data reuse in health research.   
 

Health-RI Growth Fund Kick-off event October 2021

 
On October 5th, Health-RI celebrated the kick-off of this new phase with its "Geared up to accelerate" meeting. Over 400 participants joined in one of the rare in-person events held in Autumn 2021 to be informed and discuss the approach taken in the realisation of the Health-RI infrastructure. The ministry for Health, NFU, FMS and Health-RI also presented their initiative to stimulate data sharing for research on the health effects of the Covid virus. 

 

Health-RI Conference 6th of October 2022


Save the date! The next Health-RI conference will be held on the October 6th 2022 at the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht. More information will follow in due course. Health-RI hopes to see you there. Did you miss last year's online conference in March 2021? Watch the video: Health RI Conference 2021 Plenary lectures.

 

DTL strong contributor to Health-RI 

DTL is one of the early co-founders of Health-RI and has contributed extensively to the Health-RI vision and business plan. DTL actively contributes its network and expertise in digital life sciences, FAIR data stewardship, community building and training in shaping the Health-RI organisation and programme. Through DTL, Health-RI also connects to the extensive ELIXIR activities in the area of human data, closely integrating the Dutch ELIXIR node in Health-RI. Already, the Health-RI Growth Fund investment has led to an extension of the DTL team, and DTL and Health-RI will collaborate closely to connect and synergise their activities. In 2022, the two organisations will explore how to optimise their organisation and link their partnerships even further.
 

European 1+ Million Genomes initiative

The European 1+ Million Genomes initiative (1+MG) is a collaborative endeavour of 24 European countries and the European Commission. The initiative aims to realise a federated FAIR-based data infrastructure providing cross-border access to genomic health datasets of over 1 million participating European citizens and patients. Through 1+MG, the participating countries aspire to boost the development of personalised medicine and health across Europe. The initiative has chosen four health fields to help shape the necessary infrastructure: rare diseases, oncology, common complex diseases and infectious diseases.

In 2021, the DTL/Health-RI teams and several DTL partners actively participated in shaping the 1+MG programme, and connecting the Health-RI infrastructure. DTL also co-organised the yearly 1+MG Stakeholder Forum, which was attended by over 250 participants, to discuss the design of the 1+MG Trust Framework among stakeholders. The discussions covered Legal regulations, data standards and infrastructure requirements.

In 2022, as part of the national Health-RI Growth Fund programme, the first steps will be taken towards the realisation of the technical and legal infrastructure connecting Dutch genomics labs to 1+MG. In doing so, Health-RI will work, amongst others, with the project team executing the ZonMw-funded project FAIR Genomes. This team, chaired by Morris Swertz (UMCG) has defined guidelines to promote FAIRification of genome sequencing data, including standards for common data elements in convergence with 1+MG. These activities should drive the optimal (re)use of genomic health data in research and healthcare, with the aim to make these kinds of data accessible for research and innovation. 

A WARM WELCOME TO OUR NEW COLLEAGUES


Mascha Jansen returned to DTL after working for the GO FAIR Foundation and the Dutch GO FAIR office. Mascha works as Coordinator Digital Life Sciences, and is involved in supporting ELIXIR-NL, the NPOS FAIR Data programme and the establishment of the Thematic Digital Competence Centre for Life Sciences.

  
 
 

Chantal Dunselman has started as Communications Manager at both DTL and Health-RI. Chantal has a background in Communication, Health and Life Sciences and will help strengthen DTL’s communication and outreach. 






Karisma Kanhai started as Office Manager at DTL and Health-RI. Previously, she worked for the Ministry of Finance as an Executive Secretary. She will assist the DTL team and help organise DTL’s office at the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht. 
Contact the DTL Team
Ruben Kok, Director                                                      ruben.kok[at]dtls.nl
Rob Hooft, Programme Manager Data                             rob.hooft[at]dtls.nl
Celia van Gelder, Programme Manager Learning              celia.van.gelder[at]dtls.nl
Merlijn van Rijswijk, Programme Manager Technologies   merlijn.van.rijswijk[at]dtls.nl
Mijke Jetten, Community Manager Data Stewardship       mijke.jetten[at]dtls.nl     
Mascha Jansen, Coordinator Digital Life Sciences             mascha.jansen[at]dtls.nl
Femke Francissen, Event Manager                                  femke.francissen[at]dtls.nl
Andrea Wesdorp, Personal Assistant                               andrea.wesdorp[at]dtls.nl
Karishma Kanhai, Office Manager                                   karishma.kanhai[at]dtls.nl
Chantal Dunselman, Communications Manager                chantal.dunselman[at]dtls.nl

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