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Health Data Challenges Regarding ‘Scientific Medical Processing Challenges’

Marc NyssenA Blog post by Marc Nyssen (WDS Scientific Committee Member)

Recently, the biomedical and clinical engineers who are associated with the International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering (IFMBE) and also belonging to the International Union for Physical and Engineering Sciences in Medicine (IUPESM)—the umbrella organization linking the engineers at IFMBE and the medical physics experts at the International Organization for Medical Physics—took the initiative to include competitions called ‘scientific challenges’ as a part of their conferences. The purpose of these challenges is to encourage young researchers to develop their skills by showing how they can extract information from biomedical datasets and report on their results.

A ‘challenge call’ is made public a few months before the conference alongside a deadline for the result papers, which are then evaluated by a jury. Introduced by Prof Paulo Carvalho from Coimbra University in Portugal and Prof Ratko Magjarevic from Zagreb University in Croatia, the challenges have proved quite successful, with the participation of 20–30 groups of young researchers responding to the first call.

A major problem for the organizers, however, has been to find adequate datasets containing well-documented biomedical data, such as respiratory measurements, electroencephalography recordings, electro-cardiac recordings, and the like. While many state that Big Data is widely accessible and available, well-documented and consistent biomedical datasets are difficult to find. This has resulted in the IFMBE having to actually sponsor teams to collect appropriate datasets of biomedical measurements specifically for the ‘scientific challenge’ competitions!

To address such issues, programmes are now being started that encourage universities and research groups in the Biomedical Sciences to make their datasets public while taking adequate precautions to protect the privacy of patients when such datasets are linked to physical persons. IFMBE is currently exploring practical ways to constitute collections of well-documented biomedical datasets that comply with the FAIR principles and that are made publicly available to researchers via a repository. Moreover, it is encouraging member societies at large to take up similar schemes either themselves or via universities.

To be continued...