11th September 2009

Sparking debate on data and resource sharing

Two new opinion statements on how best to maximize research benefits

In six months to May 2009, the Sanger Institute's website received visitors from 205 countries or territories (deeper green reflects larger number of visits).

In six months to May 2009, the Sanger Institute's website received visitors from 205 countries or territories (deeper green reflects larger number of visits).

The reports from two major meetings assert that wider sharing of biological data and of resources is needed to maximize the benefit from biomedical research. The reports, from meetings in Toronto on data sharing and in Rome on sharing data and biological resources in mouse functional genomics, are published in Nature Thursday 10 September 2009.

The leading stance taken by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and other partners in the Human Genome Project of ensuring early, pre-publication release of data led to a change in research practice and - critically - to a demonstrable advance in biomedical science through researchers using genomic data before the centres that produced the data had published their findings. The questions addressed in Toronto and Rome were how to drive such sharing widely and consistently, how to maintain resources sustainably and how to ensure that the scientists who produce and share data and resources receive fair credit for their work.

"The hugely successful model of the Human Genome Project and other genome efforts shows that sharing can speed science," says Dr Tim Hubbard, Head of Informatics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and an author on both reports. "The common view expressed at these meetings is that we need similar models across biology that will prime equivalent acceleration in many fields of biomedical research."

"These two meetings have each developed a set of guidelines that should broaden the use of data and resources and so speed biomedical advance. That's the business we are in - making a difference."

The Sanger Institute has leading roles in many current international research efforts such as the 1000 Genomes Project, the International Cancer Genome Consortium, the EUCOMM and KOMP mouse knockout programmes and the ENCODE project, all of which have adopted policies of pre-publication data release or access.

The proposal on prepublication data sharing engaged a wide set of stakeholders to seek agreement on a greater range of biological datasets. The opinion piece includes proposals for funders, data producers and users, and publishers; actions range from funders making rapid prepublication release a condition of funding to appropriate recognition by downstream users. Together the greater transparency and broader application of the proposals should lead to improved access to and use of biological data.

" The hugely successful model of the Human Genome Project shows that sharing can speed science - we need similar models across biology. "

Dr Tim Hubbard
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

A similar review and report from the Rome meeting on data and resources - focused on mouse resources such as stem cell collections - suggested that policies were patchy and encouraged sharing to promote 'research commons', where research is not impeded by restrictions on access to data and materials. The opinion also argues that patenting of tools and methods should be the exception and that, most often, restrictive Material Transfer Agreements should be swept away.

The broad inclusivity of the Rome meeting should help development of these proposals.

"A major theme of the Institute's research is to develop and provide datasets, tools and resources that help other scientists to make discoveries," comments Dr Stephanie Dyke, Policy Advisor at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "We welcome the discussions in Rome and Toronto that seek to provide openness, transparency and consistency that will enhance biomedical research.

"The Institute is fully committed to participating in developments from the views developed and to strengthening its policies to ensure rapid delivery of our research findings, as reflected in our updated institute policy. Internationally, we need clarity and consistency in policies as well as the standards, tools and infrastructure to be able to share effectively and sustainably."

The reports do recognize that the solutions might not always be easily achieved and that data sharing requires that the scientists who generate and share data are given fair and equitable attribution, recognition and reward sharing for their work. Moreover, there remains a need to be circumspect in the sharing of data about human subjects that might require managed access.

Sharing knowledge is essential for the progress of science, and these proposals should help to accelerate that progress.

Notes to Editors

Publication details

  • Toronto International Data Release Workshop Authors (2009) Prepublication data sharing.
    Nature 461 168-170
    doi: 10.1038/461168a; Published online 9 September 2009
  • Schofield PN and CASIMIR Rome Meeting participants (2009) Post-publication sharing of data and tools.
    Nature 461 171-173
    doi:10.1038/461171a; Published online 9 September 2009

The two opinion pieces can be found at the Nature data sharing special: http://www.nature.com/news/specials/datasharing/index.html


The authors acknowledge the support of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the European Commission (including FP6 Coordination action CASIMIR), Genome Canada, the National Human Genome Research Institute, the National Science Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust.

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which receives the majority of its funding from the Wellcome Trust, was founded in 1992. The Institute is responsible for the completion of the sequence of approximately one-third of the human genome as well as genomes of model organisms and more than 90 pathogen genomes. In October 2006, new funding was awarded by the Wellcome Trust to exploit the wealth of genome data now available to answer important questions about health and disease.


The Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. We support the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. Our breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. We are independent of both political and commercial interests.


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