A constant challenge for the Alzforum is to find new ways to apply information technology to significant problems in AD research. The most ambitious effort to date is the SWAN (Semantic Web Applications in Neuromedicine), a collaboration between Alzforum and Massachusetts General Hospital (Gao et al. 2006).
One of the key drivers behind SWAN is the realization that the Alzforum, for all its content and community activity, still is little more than collections of documents and data with some links. This information is not embedded in a knowledge model. Rather, the human user carries the knowledge model in his or her head. When a person reads a paper or follows a link, he or she fills in the contextual blanks, such as "this paper challenges hypothesis X," or "So-and-so draws the opposite conclusion from this data." With SWAN, we will provide scientists with a tool to embed their documents, data and other digital materials in a knowledge model and then to share the entire model with other scientists and communities, who can then build upon it.
Another key concept informing the design of SWAN is that scientific ideas, documents, data and other materials evolve within a "scientific ecosystem." SWAN will incorporate the full biomedical research life cycle in its ontological model, including support for personal data organization, hypothesis generation, experimentation, lab data organization, and digital pre-publication collaboration. Community, laboratory, and personal digital resources may all be organized, interconnected and shared using SWAN's common semantic framework.
Individuals will use a version called "MySWAN" as a personal tool to find and organize information, extend their knowledge, motivate discoveries and form and test hypotheses. At the community level, the same software and the same ontological framework can be used to organize and curate the research of a laboratory or of an entire research community (such as the Alzforum). Therefore, elements of the personal SWAN can be shared with the community at a low incremental effort in curation. What's more, community SWAN contents may be shared back with individuals and re-used in new contexts.
The SWAN content will develop through the type of partnership that already exists between the Alzforum editors and the AD community, with editors laying the groundwork and inviting community members to contribute. We look forward to rolling out this next generation of Web technology for AD research in the coming years.
Acknowledgements. Our deepest gratitude goes to the Alzheimer Research Forum team: Elaine Alibrandi, Tom Fagan, Donald Hatfield, Hakon Heimer, Sandra Kirley, Colin Knep, Paula Noyes, Nico Stanculescu, and Elizabeth Wu. Thanks also to our SWAN collaborators Tim Clark, Yong Gao and Gabriele Fariello. We are grateful to the Ellison Medical Foundation for its support of the SWAN project and are indebted to an anonymous foundation for its unstinting support.
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