December 14, 2021

Data alone does not write history

Data alone does not write history

For eleven months I have been supporting the project leaders in the strategy and coordination of Zurich Exhalomics. From the beginning, I saw the potential in the collaboration of fourteen research groups with the common goal of bringing breath analysis to the next technical level and making it available to patients. The constellation of basic researchers, technology developers and clinicians makes the consortium a powerful group. In the research and development work of Zurich Exhalomics, a vividly debated topic recurs: Data ownership and data interoperability. Why?


Data ownership: As we often work with breath samples, their use is linked to the consent of the subjects. Consent is for example given for the further use of the data in medical research. The data is then analysed and used in anonymised form with the goal to either get a bit closer to the marketability of breath analysis, and/or to publish scientific papers. This is one of our discussion points, where different perspectives meet and all involved research groups, subjects, providers, and funders should get their fair share of the value of the data.


Data interoperability: You can imagine that data from mass spectra, data from multi-omics and data from clinical studies have a completely different structure. For a powerful breath analysis, the interfaces between the different data structures are crucial. Only in this way can the information be meaningfully analysed and interpreted across research groups. In this regard, Zurich Exhalomics is still at the beginning - but we are not the only ones: SPHN and PHRT, two national platforms that advocate for the security and interoperability of medical data, have also recognised this challenge and are promoting projects nationally to push data interoperability and security.


The transparent and professional handling of billions of data points annually our project is one of the foci within the consortium. Only through meaningful analysis, assessment and use of the data can we write a story or even history around the undisputed benefits of breath analysis with Zurich Exhalomics.