Collaboration and Sharing in Science

by Dr Nick

The world of patents has gone mad as evidenced by companies that develop little but purchase patents portfolios to then file suit as a business model.

But in a innovative and sadly rare collaboration “Rare Sharing of Data Leads to Progress on Alzheimer’s” in which a group made up of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), university researcher, non profit groups and importantly the drug and imaging companies joined together to collaborate to identify causes and markers in Alzheimer’s disease in the human brain. The project was ground breaking:

The key to the Alzheimer’s project was an agreement as ambitious as its goal: not just to raise money, not just to do research on a vast scale, but also to share all the data, making every single finding public immediately, available to anyone with a computer anywhere in the world. No one would own the data. No one could submit patent applications, though private companies would ultimately profit from any drugs or imaging tests developed as a result of the effort.

With everyone parking their wallets and egos at the door the result they have seen are impressive and there are multiple studies and significant progress that is faster than anything that the researchers have seen to date.

The group known as Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) whose overall goal is to

define the rate of progress of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, to develop improved methods for clinical trials in this area, and to provide a large database which will improve design of treatment trials. We expect that this project will provide information and methods which will help lead to effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, leading to effective prevention.

This seems like a model for progress vs the current level of stagnation and imagine this tied to resources available in our homes computers that are harnessed to process massive amounts of data. We’ve seen this progress in the Einstein@Home project as featured here on PRI’s “The World” and explained in this pdf document searching for binary Pulsars. Right now this project is working on Astronomical data processing (the web site for more information is here) and is based on a program called Boinc (available here) which forms the basis of many projects that are using the millions of computers available to process large amounts of data including:

SETI@home (Searching for extra terrestrial life) (Climate prediction and modeling) Rosetta@home (protein research) World Community Grid (cancer research) to mention a few.

There are many others. This is the way to make progress and we can all make a contribution by getting involved by connecting our computers to the network to contribute processing power to the network. In the case Chris Colvin in Iowa received a letter to tell him to that his computer helped make the first discover a rare Pulsar discovery. How would you like to receive a letter to telling you that you had contributed to a breakthrough in Alzheimer Treatment or Diagnosis, a new cancer treatment for breast cancer, a new treatment for heart disease, a new earthquake prediction model…….

Right now there are more than 1 Billion PC’s but Einstein@Home is only tapping 0.01% of this computing power. SIgn up, get involved and less move science forward.

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