The Internet has put the combined efforts, experience and knowledge of entire research communities literally at the fingertips of scientists. These resources offer potentially enormous value toward critical life science research such as identification of cancer biomarkers, and other diagnostic and prognostic indicators. However, they remain vastly underutilized because of a lack of tools and technologies that allow researchers easy access to those assets.
Most clinical research projects present researchers with the daunting task of collecting, integrating, and analyzing heterogeneous sets of data in various states of integrity and completeness. The data is often produced through multi-laboratory and multi-disciplinary collaborations because the complexity of the projects demands resources not available to most single-investigator labs. While the ability to produce vast amounts of data has increased substantially in recent years, the integration of that data and extraction of knowledge is still performed by inefficient, ad hoc methods that do not sufficiently address critical issues such as data integrity, completeness, and semantic heterogeneity. The ideal solution to that problem would require a statistically robust experimental project design, which was defined a priori; as well as reliable, interoperable and user-friendly software and homogeneous data content representation and exchange formats. While the ideal solution presents a laudable goal for the life science informatics community and has formed the basis for many past community efforts such as the Interoperable Informatics Infrastructure Consortium (I3C) and NCI’s Cancer Biomedical Information Grid (caBIG), the required components do not yet exist and are likely to take years or even decades to develop or establish themselves.
Over the last fifteen years, INCOGEN and its collaborators have played leading roles in efforts to develop the bioinformatics and technology infrastructure and provide scientists with tools to enable effective research in the absence of a full solution to these vast and complex problems. Seeded by INCOGEN's first research grant, an award from the National Institute of Standards and Technology - Advanced Technology Program in 2001, the efforts culminated in tools, such as the Visual Integrated Bioinformatics Environment (VIBE) and GenePort. that assisted thousands of scientists worldwide in their research by providing effective integration of diverse and semantically heterogeneous data,