Knowledge representation in Health Research: the Canadian Influenza Research Network model

The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that influenza infection currently results in an average of 20,000 hospitalizations and 4,000 deaths each year. Therefore, an influenza pandemic would have severe health, economic and social consequences. The Public Health Agency of Canada/Canadian Institutes of Health Research Influenza Research Network (PCIRN) was developed to identify research gaps in the country's pandemic influenza preparedness initiative. To facilitate the initiative, research will be done at various sites across the country, supported by a common information technology (IT) group. An essential mission of the IT support group is to develop standards ensuring proper communication and knowledge transmission amongst the different members of the network. Currently, differences in interpretation of the 'meaning' of data or semantic heterogeneity pose a significant challenge to combine information from multiple heterogeneous sources. In order to efficiently integrate information generated by the various centres constituting the network, a consistent representation of data must be adopted.

Mélanie Courtot's research centres on the development of a model to unambiguously interpret influenza data. Working in collaboration with Dr. Scheuermann, leader of the BioHealthBase project, the equivalent of the PCIRN network in the United States, Ms. Courtot will develop a guideline outlining the minimum information required, and derive a data model that captures the necessary elements and the semantic relationships between them, which will allow for the integration of Canadian and American data, thereby assisting in the development of a North American influenza data network. Establishment of standards for unambiguous data representation and investigation modeling will improve the integration and re-use of information produced, and ultimately increase the quality and re-usability of that information and decrease the cost of health care.