How nanoparticle toxicity (i.e. nanotoxicology) affects the health and environment
of Europeans is a concern that many researchers are currently investigating.
Rising to the challenge is the NHECD
('Nano health-environment commented database') project, funded under the
EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) to the tune of EUR 1.45 million. The
project partners are seeking to create a critical and commented database on
the health, safety and environmental impact of nanoparticles. The project coordinator
is Professor Oded Maimon from Tel Aviv University with participants from JRC
(Italy), IVAM (Netherlands) and tp21 (Germany).
Scientific papers and others types of publications including White Papers highlight
the need for a methodology that would facilitate the reviewing of all available
information, as well as the uncovering of underlying facts through the use of
data-mining algorithms and methods. NHECD would make possible the transition
from metadata like author names and key words to the information level.
However, most existing electronic knowledge repositories including databases
and content management systems are operated manually, which enables only a limited
amount of data to be processed. Also, rather unsystematic taxonomy and ontology
principles are used to guide the documents' classification and information extraction
The ultimate objective of NHECD is to develop an open access, robust and sustainable
system that can meet the challenge of automatically maintaining a rich and up-to-date
scientific research repository. This repository would enable a comprehensive
analysis of published data on health and environment effects following exposure
to nanoparticles, according to the project partners. The repository would also
be harmonised to be compatible with existing databases at the metadata level.
What is unique about this database is that various user groups, such as industry
and public institutions, will be able to access, locate and retrieve information
relevant to their needs, the partners said. The upshot of such a knowledge repository
is that public understanding of the impact of nanoparticles on health and the
environment will be strengthened. Moreover, it will support the safe and responsible
development and use of nanotechnology.
The partners anticipate three key results from NHECD, which started last December
and will end in 2012. According to them, the results 'will hopefully facilitate
the safe use of engineered nanoparticles'.
One of the outcomes of the project will be the creation of a novel layer of
information for every paper analysed by the system. 'This layer includes metadata
and scientific information extracted from the paper using our mining algorithms,
and rating of the paper using specific algorithms,' Abel Browarnik from the
Department of Industrial Engineering at Tel Aviv University in Israel told CORDIS
'The creation of structured body of knowledge emerging from the raw papers,
which are by definition an unstructured body of knowledge, and allowing three
communities of users (researchers, regulators and the public at large) to intelligently
query the knowledge base created by NHECD' are the other expected results, he
While all three groups will benefit from the NHECD results, he continued, 'We
believe that researchers will be the most frequent users of our results (as
with the papers themselves, mostly accessed by researchers).'
The collaboration between researchers and industry is an important component
of the NHECD project. 'Their collaboration is essential for us to help us target
the requirements of our future audience,' Mr Browarnik told CORDIS News.
While the partners are optimistic about the results, they are also aware of
the potential challenges they face. 'The challenges we foresee are the automatic
population of the repository, information extraction, keeping the repository
up to date, updating the taxonomies used by NHECD, paper rating and intelligent
retrieval,' Mr Browarnik said.
Will NHECD drive similar research now and in the future? Project coordinator
Professor Maimon says it will. 'We believe that our work will stimulate further
research in this area by enabling a clear view of the field and allowing us
to understand the effects of nanoparticles,' Professor Maimon told CORDIS News.