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outGRID - ITU High Level Workshop on Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases

Geneva, Switzerland, 20 February 2012

Opening Remarks

Ladies and Gentlemen
Colleagues and friends

Welcome to this High Level Workshop on e-Infrastructures to Foster Drug Discovery for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases.

As previous speakers have indicated, the humanitarian and financial toll of Alzheimer’s and related diseases is today greater than ever.

The damage these diseases cause to individuals, families and societies is rising, and this damage will continue to rise at increasing speeds unless governments and scientific communities take coordinated, collaborative action to prevent it.

Fortunately, countries and scientific communities share this opinion. Speakers in today’s first session affirmed the need for cooperation at an international policy level, and the speakers in this session will undoubtedly stress the need for international collaboration by scientific communities.

outGRID’s goal to establish a worldwide e-infrastructure for a global virtual image laboratory is an excellent step towards accelerating the pace of research into Alzheimer’s. With the aid of a common research infrastructure, multidisciplinary scientific research will produce extraordinary results. We will see more discoveries, of a greater variety, produced at a much greater pace.

The integration of a number of heterogeneous ICT networks in this manner is implicitly reliant on interoperability. And for interoperability, international standards are a must.

ITU standardization work is undertaken by Member States, private sector organizations and now academia. Since the beginning of last year academia (universities and research institutes) can become members of ITU at a very reduced fee: $2000/year for those in developoing countries and $4000 for those in developed countries. This is a substantial reduction from the normal $32,000/year. Standards are developed mainly by our industry members, in response to global demand through an approach based on international cooperation and consensus.

Research communities are already leading the drive towards a global e-infrastructure for computational biomedicine. And, ITU is proud to be part of the international consortium, GLOBIOS, established to design and realize this e-infrastructure.

The consortium includes world-renowned institutions such as Johns Hopkins University, University of California (UCLA) and McGill University from North America; Juelich Supercomputing Centre in Germany; Stichting European Grid Initiative in the Netherlands and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The e-infrastructure will be based on distributed computing networks, with computing resources (nodes) located in Europe, North America and developing nations.

Network interoperability will therefore be the key determinant of this project’s success, and ITU can help ensure network interoperability as well as the consortium’s outreach activities.

With ITU’s membership of 193 countries, over 700 private-sector entities and over 30 (and counting) academic institutions, ITU is clearly the right place to create the requisite international policy frameworks and e-infrastructure standards.

Alongside its long-standing history of international standards development, ITU has developed a global outreach capacity able to mobilize support for this initiative in all corners of the globe. This will be crucial in guaranteeing an e-infrastructure truly representative of a global research community with open access to the world’s store of biomedical data.

Of course, ITU’s engagement with e-Health extends much further than just this involvement with GLOBIOS.

Most recently, ITU has established a Focus Group on M2M Service Layer which will explore the trends and standardization demands of all aspects of the M2M field as it relates to e-Health. Reliable, interoperable standards will be key to providing patients and health professionals with the means to use remote consultation services, advanced ICT-based diagnostic procedures and electronic health information services. This work began in response to strong industry demand. In fact, at a meeting of key CTOs during 2011’s ITU Telecom World, ITU was urged to accelerate technical standardization work in the e-Health field.

Being a Focus Group, participation is open to anyone, is free of charge, and since most of our meetings offer remote participation, you do not even need to go to the expense of travelling to the meetings. So you are all welcome to join.

I believe it is an important initiative in the enormously complicated M2M field. Clearly the connection of 50 billion devices will need some standardization and for e-health applications there is no margin for error.

In addition, in October last year, ITU approved a new protocol to relay biometric information, thereby connecting medical practitioners with the real-time medical data of patients in remote locations. Recommendation ITU-T X.1080.1 is the first in a suite of e-Health and telemedicine Recommendations to support interactions between a patient’s local medical facility and a remote medical centre with more advanced diagnostic capabilities.

This standard was produced by our Study Group 17 which is looking at work on telebiometrics and which started its meeting here this morning.

Another of our 10 study groups, Study Group 16 on multi-media works on frameworks for e-Health applications.

Finally, for a more general analysis of the e-Health landscape and the field’s exciting future, I encourage you to consult our ITU-T Technology Watch Report entitled “Standards and e-Health” which is freely available on ITU-T’s website.

Another of our events that you will be interested in, is a joint workshop with WHO on 26-27 April here in Geneva on e-health standards and interoperability. You are all invited to attend and details are on our website.

Returning to the focus of today’s workshop, I would like to conclude by re-emphasizing the objective of this new global e-infrastructure for computational neuroscience: it is the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease by 2020.

This would be an ambitious target if were confined to national research initiatives, but the capabilities of ICT networks are such that research can occur internationally, in a coordinated manner, which is what we are discussing today.

With today’s enormous volumes of neuro-image data, and with the collaborative efforts of neuroscientists across the world, preventing Alzheimer’s by 2020 has become a very realistic proposition.

I will close by saying again that ITU is very proud to be part of this important initiative. I hope you will come up with some recommendations and actions that ITU can take to further this work.

I wish you a very productive and enjoyable workshop and I look forward to seeing you at the reception later today.