In Germany, there is currently a lack of infrastructure to deal with high-volume biological and biomedical data, such as data found in medical records. Two important types of data are genomic data, which contains information on an individual’s genetic code, and phenomic data, which is about an individual’s observable traits, arising from interactions between their genes and the environment. Both types of data are already generated on a large scale across Germany, but legal, ethical, and technical issues limit access to and reuse of such data for research purposes.
The German Human Genome-Phenome Archive (GHGA), which has just received a funding commitment from the German research foundation DFG, will address the need for access to genomic and phenomic data within an ethical and legal framework. By establishing a German data archive and analytics platform, German scientists will have increased opportunities to participate in key international research networks.
Genome research plays a central role in modern health research and is already contributing to better patient care. In cancer research, for example, the analysis of individual tumour genomes can reveal genetic changes in order to treat them with targeted therapies. Genomic analyses are also increasingly used to decipher the genetic causes of rare diseases.
By establishing a standardised infrastructure for processing large volumes of data, the research community in Germany will benefit from more streamlined processes and the centralised nature of the data. “The archive will provide greater opportunities to foster responsible data sharing throughout Germany and Europe overall,” says Jan Korbel, a group leader at EMBL Heidelberg and one of the directors of the GHGA. “It will also enable us to better train the next generation of scientists in efficient, responsible use of data and management of biological and biomedical data in research.”
The consortium, led by the DKFZ, brings together expertise from across Germany and Europe, including EMBL. It builds on and extends existing reliable and secure high-performance computing infrastructures to form a network of data hubs that German scientists will be able to access. This national infrastructure will be connected to institutes generating data throughout Germany, and will make the data accessible in a seamless manner.
“We are proud that EMBL is part of this consortium,” says Oliver Stegle, another director of the GHGA, associated with both the DKFZ and EMBL. “We bring our expertise to the table in handling large genomic datasets from multiple institutions. For decades, EMBL has been a great supporter of data archiving and exchange, and we are very pleased that we now have the opportunity to contribute to a better dissemination of genomic data in Germany.”
“The GHGA will closely interact with the European Genome-Phenome Archive at EMBL-EBI, and participate as a node within the future EGA federation network. This novel structure will enable a more rapid exchange of human genomic research data from Germany with international communities,” says Korbel.
The GHGA consortium will work closely with ethical and legal experts to ensure the highest standards of data processing and data security. The archive will boost genome research in Germany, enabling German research expertise to advance wider research efforts across Europe.