Although free software has had huge success at the infrastructural level – it runs most of the Internet, most cloud computing services, and vast swathes of corporate computing – its roll-out to more specialised areas has been slower.
That's to be expected of course, since such vertical apps require not just coding knowledge but also specific expertise for the subject in question, and for them to be working together in harmony.
Against that background, it's great to see moves like this at the Leicester Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit:
BRICCS [Biomedical Research Informatics Centre for Cardiovascular Science] is a system for capturing and coding clinical information about patients with cardiovascular disease seen in UHL specifically for research purposes and for facilitating recruitment of patients into new studies.
The core of BRICCS will be a dedicated research database, the first of its kind in the UK, linked to a collection of blood samples from patient volunteers who have made their medical records available to researchers.
BRICCS developers are working with a number of international projects to utilise open source clinical research tools within the BRICCS platform. The first three tools integrated into BRICCS will be:
caTissue - a biospecimen tracking and inventory tool produced under the US National Cancer Institute's Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG), https://cabig.nci.nih.gov
Onyx - a data collection and patient interview tool produced by the international OBiBa project, a core project of the Population Project in Genomics Consortium, http://www.obiba.org
i2b2 - Informatics for Integrating Biology and the Bedside - is a scalable informatics framework that enables clinical researchers to use existing clinical data for discovery research, developed by the US National Center for Biomedical Computing based at Partners Healthcare Systems / Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA, http://www.i2b2.org
What's interesting here is how different projects from around the world are being brought together to be applied to a new problem. This kind of re-purposing is one of the great advantages of free software, since it's not necessary to ask permission or to negotiate impossibly complex licensing agreements to do so, as would be the case with traditional software. Let's hope we see many more such applications.