Friday, November 25, 2011

Grids, clouds and world health at SciTech Europe 2011

TinTin might be bringing Belgian culture to the masses in cinemas at the moment, but for me it was another day, another train trip to Brussels… In the next couple of weeks, it might be worth buying a season ticket from Amsterdam to the home of beer and waffles –SciTech Europe 2011, followed by an FP7 information day, and finishing up with the Innovation Convention on 5 and 6 December. Today it was SciTech Europe, an annual event from Public Service Review, this time held in the aptly named ‘Cube’ in Mont des Arts. Slightly reminiscent of the Louvre’s glass pyramid (although obviously a different shape) the glass cube hosted around 150 participants from government, academia and business, all brought together to discuss ways to promote science and technology in Europe.

I was there to host the European Grid Infrastructure booth – Steven Newhouse, Director of EGI also delivered a masterclass on the sustainable future of grid computing in Europe. It’s all about extracting knowledge from the data deluge hitting researchers from the ever-burgeoning ‘internet of things’, among other sources. On the horizon is a cloud for European researchers that will combine public and commercial resources, complementing the EC’s investment in innovation with commercial expertise.

The event closed with a visionary presentation from Francis Moussy, of the World Health Organisation. He alerted us to some scary statistics for diseases such as dengue fever, HIV and leishmaniasis that are still hitting the developing world hard. Hundreds of thousands of people are affected every year by diseases that we in Europe may never even have heard of. Every year new diseases emerge, such as avian flu, adding to the burden carried by health services.

The WHO focuses on alleviating these ‘infectious diseases of poverty’ and is due to launch a global report in January 2012. The report will follow three themes– the effects of climate change on health, the influence of health systems and the promises offered by innovation. One key area affected by these issues is Africa and Moussa noted that when you look at research collaborations in the region, you find a surprising thing. There are many collaborations between African institutions and North America or Europe… but very few between the African institutions themselves. These sorts of collaborations are what EGI is hoping to support in its recently signed Memorandum of Understanding with Meraka, representing SAGrid, the South African computing grid. The CHAIN project (Coordination and Harmonisation of Advanced e-Infrastructures) is also active in building bridges between e-Infrastructures in different countries.

Right now, the WHO is starting a new project on innovation and ageing. By 2050, 80% of older people will live in what are now classed as low or middle income countries. Ageing happens faster and earlier in these countries and heavily impacts activities such as innovation, infrastructure building and business. The WHO will tackle the problem using four approaches: they will map what people need now and what is currently provided for them, create product profiles for medical companies to use as guidelines for developing new products for this market, facilitate technology transfer and create or augment existing Centres of Excellence in these areas for research and development.

As Captain Haddock would say… blistering barnacles, snowy!

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