For Canadian neuroscientists, the Canadian Open Neuroscience Platform (CONP) will make data collected through imaging, genome mapping, and other research methods accessible and easier to share with colleagues across the country, improving the odds of producing big discoveries as research data become available to more researchers.

“There’s a trend toward data sharing,” says Dr. Vesna Sossi, who travelled to Montreal recently for the preliminary CONP meeting (video below). “We want to see valuable data being used as deeply and broadly as possible to enable extraction of a maximum amount of information for the greater good of research and the neuroscience community in particular. This new paradigm is based on the FAIR data principle: data should be findable, interoperable, accessible and reusable. This will require new ethical guidelines, data governance models, open-science training and changes in publications and communications policies.”

“The culture in science is changing, and increasingly value is placed not only on results, but also on data collection, and the neuroscience community at UBC will be part of informing that change,” says Dr. Sossi.

Last month, the Government of Canada and Brain Canada announced more than $10 million in funding to establish CONP, which represents a partnership between 15 universities across Canada (and four international partners, including the European Union’s Human Brain Project) with a shared goal of improving access to research data to improve the success of Canadian brain research. Canada is the first country to bring together multiple universities and data aggregators dealing with brain health and disease and develop a means to bring national collaboration to a common platform. Led by an executive chaired by Dr. Alan Evans at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, the group aims to take the focus off the individual researcher and emphasize sharing and collaboration for the benefit of all Canadians, accelerating the pace of discovery and making more efficient use of research funds.

Dr. Jane Roskams leads data science training and education initiatives for the CONP, and serves on the executive alongside Dr. Evans.

“Neuroscience research produces more data than we can even know what to do with, and sometimes one person’s data may not prove useful in the short term,” says Dr. Sossi. “But another group somewhere else may find it helpful in answering a different research question. Pooling our data will lead to more discoveries, and ultimately better health outcomes for patients.”

The platform is still in the early stages, and researchers met in Montreal in February to formally launch CONP and to begin to define the goals and governance of the partnership. In addition to Dr. Sossi and Dr. Roskams, Dr. Anthony Phillips and Dr. Paul Pavlidis also represented UBC and the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health at the launch of this new initiative. Dr. Jon Stoessl and Dr. Martin McKeown are involved as well, but did not attend the meeting.

“One important outcome of the meeting was establishing how we want an open-source platform of imaging, genomic, and basic science data to work,” explains Dr. Sossi. “In order to build a massive, open data sharing platform online, we need to be sure we’re removing barriers to collaboration and making our deliverables easy to test and share.”

While the CONP is in its early stages, the group has begun visualizing its first three years: by 2021, they hope to have established the infrastructure to create a truly open neuroscience platform that, the team hopes, will make the answers to some of the most pressing questions in brain research easier to find. An important first stage is to define current data exchange practices across academic, clinical, and industry sectors, existing data resources, common data elements, individual perceptions of sharing and open science, ethical and governance requirements, and unmet needs that CONP can readily address. This stage will involve extensive consultation with the Canadian neuroscience community and the neuroscience community at UBC should expect to offer significant input.

For more information on the Canadian Open Neuroscience Platform, visit