ONTOFORCE at SWAT4HCLS 2024: DISQOVER powering optimized oncology research

ONTOFORCE recently sponsored and participated in the SWAT4HCLS conference, an event focused on the convergence of data integration, semantic technologies, and life sciences.

13 March 3 minutes

ONTOFORCE recently sponsored and participated in the SWAT4HCLS conference in the charming city of Leiden, the Netherlands. Now in its 15th edition, SWAT4HCLS is a conference focused on delving deep into the convergence of data integration, semantic technologies, and life sciences. This year, the conference was made up of seminars showcasing the results of recent academic research, along with presentations from industry representatives and governmental agencies.  

Overcoming tooling and data challenges 

It was particularly interesting to hear from the various organizations represented at the conference on how they are utilizing semantic technology and working to bring data together. Jennifer Woordward-Greene from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) presented on how the agency is trying to unify their organizations with a controlled vocabulary and beginning to work more with knowledge graphs. However, the agency is struggling to get people onboard (and stick) with the initiative.  

The USDA has been around since the 1800s and has accrued hordes of valuable data, spread across its different subdivisions. While there have been efforts in recent years to work with this legacy data and to create a standardized platform that can be used across all divisions at the USDA, many hurdles still stand in the way. ONTOFORCE is no stranger to such hurdles. Over the years, we have witnessed the challenges many organizations face when trying to implement data and tooling standardization. On top of this, there can be a general push-back against working with semantics, despite the benefits. Woordward-Greene noted that many USDA colleagues are also put off by the more technical aspects that semantics tends to tack on to their work, like entities and properties. This truly highlights the importance of providing an easy entry point for more hesitant users. Having a proper user interface that simplifies the complexities of semantics helps to keep people engaged with the vision and keeps people from storming off (something Woordward-Greene has witnessed numerous times).  

ONTOFORCE understands the challenges that come with onboarding and retaining users and has invested a lot to ensure our knowledge discovery platform, DISQOVER, has an intuitive interface that is inviting for colleagues across the spectrum of data expertise. DISQOVER operates on knowledge graph and semantic search technology to aggregate data from disparate sources into one platform where users can easily explore and search for data. Learn more about how Merck KGaA is leveraging DISQOVER to centralize data access, making it easy for users to find and visualize the data they need.  

Metrics for FAIR data 

A major highlight of the conference was the "10 years of FAIR" discussion with two of the founders of the FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable) data principles, Barend Mons and Mark Wilkinson. The discussion touched on many topics, but it was particularly interesting to hear the founders’ opinions on implementing metrics to adhere to in order to achieve FAIR. The speakers argued for not attempting to come up with these validation metrics themselves (and then enforce these metrics onto everyone who wants to achieve FAIR data) and are instead advocating that these metrics should be built bottom-up from an organizational perspective.  


ONTOFORCE recently gathered a panel of experts to engage in a dynamic discussion to share experiences, challenges, and successes in implementing the FAIR data principles. Check out the recording to gain insights into practical strategies for FAIR data implementation and hear views from experts at the Pistoia Alliance, AstraZeneca, Zifo and ONTOFORCE. Watch the recording >>> 

DISQOVER powering optimized pediatric oncology research 

ONTOFORCE had the pleasure to present with the Princess Máxima Center, the largest pediatric cancer center in Europe where more than 900 healthcare professionals and 450 scientists work closely with Dutch and international hospitals to find better treatments and new perspectives for a cure for childhood cancers. Menno J. de Vries, IT Research Coordinator at the Princess Máxima Center, along with Bérénice Wulbrecht, ONTOFORCE’s Vice President of Data Science and Solution Enablement came together to discuss the use of DISQOVER to power optimized pediatric oncology research at Princess Máxima.  

Menno J de Vries at SWAT4HCLS Prinses Maxima ONTOFORCE

Menno gave insight into how DISQOVER facilitates the ease of finding data across the organization, prompting users to explore more data and approach research questions and tasks differently. Integrated within Princess Máxima’s instance of DISQOVER is tailored and anonymized data from their electronic patient system, biobank data, metadata from patient questionaries, and experimental data. As this data now sits in one place, users can explore datasets that they might not have known previously existed. Enabling improved findability and integration of data within DISQOVER is supporting an optimal exchange of data and knowledge between their research and care functions. These efforts are all centered towards the organization’s lager mission: to cure every child with cancer, with optimal quality of life.  


Many thanks to the SWAT4HCLS team for organizing this insightful event! 


This blog post was written in part by Sean Christiaens, Senior Data Scientist at ONTOFORCE.