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Standards are needed to get the most out of brain research

14 March 2022

Brain health is an increasingly pressing issue for most countries due to the staggering cost of brain disorders and the increase of aging populations. Major investments are made in neuroscience and neurology research, but further optimization is still needed to ensure those investments reach their maximal potential. While neuroscience research is moving from its traditional silos towards FAIR and openness, the field still has issues with data reuse and reanalysis due to a lack of interoperability solutions and brain data standards adoption. 

In basic as well as applied neuroscience research, there is an unmet need for systematic, standardized and well-defined data organization practices and proper data description. Standards are needed at all levels: for data collection and description, for reporting methods and documenting workflows, for describing and sharing code for data processing and analysis. 

Developing standards requires both community coordination and consensus. Standards must also have governance structures to ensure sustainability, in addition to continued development  to stay relevant and useful. Software tool developers and maintainers are a necessary link between a community and its standards – adoption by the broader community will not happen without the development of a surrounding software tool ecosystem that implements the standard and continues to support it. 

Successful standards development and adoption requires collaborative channels for the community to identify common problems and find potential solutions -  the INCF Assembly is intended to build productive communities around neuroscience standards by helping our community members find peers with the same interests and discuss solutions for common needs, by helping them find collaborators and adopters, and by showcasing the results. This year we’re hosting it virtually on September 13-16: submit your abstract latest May 6!

Ensuring funding for the type of international collaboration and coordination needed for standards development and governance is difficult, since most research funding is geographically restricted and of limited duration. Funding is also an issue for establishing and maintaining a standard, which makes it a double challenge for INCF to carry out our mission to develop, evaluate, and endorse FAIR standards and best practices. To fund collaboration efficiently, part of the funding should be devoted to the development, implementation and governance of standards. 

While INCF continues to advocate for more funding for collaboration, coordination, and infrastructure for neuroscience, you can support our work by joining the INCF network: group memberships are open to individuals, academic groups (universities, institutions, labs, projects, networks, etc.), non-profit organizations, and companies offering products and services related to neuroscience, neurotech, data science, and e-infrastructure. Membership will enable you and your colleagues to influence global strategy around neuroscience standardization and interoperability, build your community capacity, and find collaborators across the world. 

Don’t hesitate to reach out to the INCF Secretariat if you want to know more! 

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