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 processes.
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 News.
'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 added.
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.