Olivier de Fresnoye is an active member of La Paillasse, an open, community-based laboratory in central Paris. It also coordinates, along with Medhi Benchoufi, a doctor specialising in epidemiology, Epidemium, a research programme run in partnership with the Roche pharmaceutical company that uses big data to further cancer research. This, with Challenge4Cancer, a data challenge, cross-disciplinary teams are invited to develop innovative projects using digital tools and open datasets provided by La Paillasse.
So how does La Paillasse work? How can digital and open innovation help cancer research progress? We found out from Olivier de Fresnoye.
La Paillasse, AN OPEN, CROSS-DISCIPLINARY COMMUNITY-BASED laboratoRY
So what is La Paillasse?
La Paillasse is a community laboratory made up of both scientific and non-scientific communities. We believe you don’t have to be a scientist to be passionate about certain fields. Just because they’re not lab researchers it doesn’t mean they can’t be dedicated and useful in certain areas.
“A lot of young – and not-so-young – scientists have projects but don’t have access to university laboratories and can’t afford expensive equipment.”
The purpose of La Paillasse is thus to provide these communities with resources. These might be physical resources: we currently have about 800 square metres available with laboratories which can allow people to experiment with ideas in the field of biology. We also have the equivalent of a Fab lab featuring prototyping equipment: from 3D-printing to laser cutting and all types of electronic prototyping. All this equipment, which is expensive, can be shared by the community members.
La Paillasse is a place where people meet and events and conferences are held where people can take part, talk, make suggestions, and even build their project by enlisting additional skills.
A number of words could be used to describe our space: hacklab, hackerspace, or even third place, because it’s neither an academic place, nor a private place nor a public place. Basically, we’re an association-type structure with democratic decision-making systems in which anyone can take part. And the concept is gradually spreading: there’s a Paillasse in Lyon, one in the Philippines and others are currently being prepared in specific areas, such as La Paillasse Océan which is dedicated to marine sciences.
Tell us about the Epidemium programme.
Epidemium is a programme I’m coordinating with Medhi Benchoufi, a doctor and mathematics fellow. It’s a scientific research programme which aims to result in some concrete projects. We’re not really the fundamental part of the research, more the applicative side.
Like a conventional research programme, Epidemium consists of two phases: the preparation phase followed by the call for projects and challenges. The aim is to explore together new ways of understanding cancer from an epidemiological point of view. One of the main focuses of the programme is the open principle. Our work is based on open access and open science with open data, for solutions which are offered in open source mode.
“The idea really is for everything to be open, to share and collaborate. For that, we use a powerful driver, the very cornerstone and identity of La Paillasse: the community aspect.”
collective intelligence TO THINK outside the box
The Epidemium programme is perfectly in keeping with the La Paillasse concept: using Big Data technologies in the field of cancer epidemiology with an open, community-focused dynamic. With Epidemium, we provide participants with a certain number of resources. They’re not laboratories but computing clusters and data analysis environments.
In addition to technical and scientific resources, we also offer community resources: everyone’s in contact with the rest of the community, which we manage. This allows us to stimulate emulation and create a collective intelligence dynamic, with people who don’t necessarily have any experience in the healthcare sector but are capable of thinking outside the box.
Does the Epidemium programme focus on Big Data?
We do work with a Big Data approach, i.e. by combining large datasets and which naturally require, given the nature of the data, a combination of different skills.
“A developer working alone can’t do it. It requires skills in IT development, statistics, predictive algorithms, machine learning, deep learning, etc. It’s rare to find all these areas of expertise in one person.”
We also need people with medical knowledge in order to ensure that the studies, analyses and algorithm prototypes aren’t full of methodological bias. The concept is really to establish a community. We currently have just over 200 members who’ve signed up for the challenge, which will enable us to identify, reward and support the best projects and help deploy them. So we’re really at the research stage.
innovation nO LONGER TAKES PLACE BETWEEN THE FOUR WALLS OF A COMPANY
Do you often collaborate with laboratories or major groups?
Almost every week, companies come to see us.
“A lot of companies are questioning things and beginning to realise that innovation doesn’t just happen inside their company but is increasingly happening on the outside. This is an interesting dynamic because it means involving different areas of expertise and beneficiaries or future consumers in the process of developing new solutions.”
We’ve worked with the Ministry of Health. When Etalab (French government open data project, Ed) published the DAMIR open dataset – an extract of data from the French state health insurance organisation– a hackathon was held on La Paillasse’s premises. We also had a hackathon with the MAIF (a mutual insurance company), during which we explored community collaborative solutions.
We’ve also signed a number of partnerships. For Epidemium, for example, we’re working with TeraLab, which is run by the Institut Mines-Télécom, on a system for calculating big data, as well as technology partners such as the artificial intelligence tool HyperCube, the predictive application Dataiku, but also Cancer Campus, a cancer research campus developed by the Institut Gustave Roussy, Wikimédia France, Cap Digital, and a number of other companies and start-ups with interesting technologies. We’re also discussing possible projects with a number of major CAC 40 groups.
An OPEN dynamiC THAT’S CONDUCIVE TO NEW DISCOVERIES
How to you plan to handle copyright issues?
When Finland was head of the European Commission, it set up Living_labs where scientists and companies worked together on innovation in various fields, such as healthcare. And their biggest problem was copyright.
We, on the other hand, have a very different approach because we don’t have any intellectual property or patents. The value lies precisely in the fact that anyone and everyone can reuse the technologies, so it’s evenly distributed. Anyone can own the technologies we create together and try and use them, depending on their particular skills and expertise.
“The open innovation dynamic can not only generate value but lead to new discoveries, new possibilities, new methods, new approaches and new modes of cross-disciplinary cooperation.”
And what about data management and confidentiality?
With Epidemium, it was quite easy to manage as we only work with open data. As this is epidemiology, we work with population-based data, not individual data.
We’re really at the initial phase, the prototyping, exploring and research stage. So we can start developing predictive algorithms for cancer based on aggregate, open data and then – if the project meets a certain number of criteria – access, in the laboratories, completely private data.
When we do clinical trials, patients sometimes agree for their data to be used for research. With the projects we develop, we can access this data by setting up partnerships with research laboratories that have access to them and implementing a legal framework.
An open approach in order to innovate and move forward together: that’s also what the #digitalforallnow movement is all about. With digital tools, the possibilities for collaboration are infinite: everything moves faster and the barriers between the various ecosystems come down. To find out more, read our other articles on open innovation.
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