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Foundation Supporting Open Science Initiatives

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(Bill McChesney/Flickr)

12 January 2015. Helmsley Charitable Trust is awarding $6.4 million in grants to three not-for-profit organizations that foster more open and collaborative science. The awards, from the foundation’s Biomedical Research Infrastructure Program, support new research platforms, data management tools, and training programs.

The Biomedical Research Infrastructure Program aims to support new technologies and systems that encourage more pooling of ideas and sharing of data platforms that build on existing techniques or explore new ways of working. The Helmsley Charitable Trust also supports health-related research on type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel and Crohn’s disease, rural health care, and basic medical research. Funding for the foundation, based in New York, comes from the estates of the late real estate executive Harry Helmsley and his wife, hotel executive Leona Helmsley.

The foundation is awarding $2.6 million to Sage Bionetworks in Seattle to expand its Synapse project that offers online workspaces to help researchers aggregate, describe, and share their work. Synapse provides programming and statistical tools, such as the statistical package R, and encourages scientists to open up their research for greater collaboration and reproducibility.

The three-year Helmsley grant will enable Sage Bionetworks to offer a greater array of real-time and collaborative Web services supporting its Dream challenges, crowd-sourced competitions involving big-data solutions. The award will also help Sage Bionetworks build an online discussion system into the Synapse platform. In addition, Sage plans to use some of the funds to develop an electronic patient consent process for pilot testing in a breast cancer study capturing data with a smartphone app.

A $2.1 million award is going to the project building an online open-source annotation platform that helps researchers more readily find source data. The Helmsley funds are expected to help develop a system to embed annotations into existing publications, beginning on a pilot test with the Neuroscience Information Framework database. The organization also plans to apply the funding to new technology for providing authorship credits on annotations, thus encouraging more scientists to share their results.

In addition, the three-year grant will support assigning standard Research Resource Identifier codes to components of biomedical research publications, such as antibodies, genes, and data sets. These identifiers aim to make it easier to locate research references across disciplines and journals.

A $1.8 million Helmsley award is supporting the work of Mozilla Science Lab, created by the Mozilla Foundation in 2013 as an open research community. The grant will help Mozilla meet the growing demand for participation in the lab’s open science workshops that have so far trained some 4,000 researchers. The funding is expected to underwrite a pilot Instructor Fellows program to expand volunteer instructors in the workshops, as well as support curriculum development.

“The biomedical research enterprise faces a number of structural challenges, including outdated and incompatible technologies, incentives that promote individual interests, and ongoing budget cuts, which prevent collaboration, impede access to data and, ultimately, limit the potential for life-saving laboratory breakthroughs,” says John Ettinger, CEO of Helmsley Trust in a foundation statement. “ [W]e identified an unmet funding need for tools and best practices that can harness the burgeoning power of big data to address these challenges and shift the research paradigm.”

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