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COVID-19: Open Science and Innovation in the Greek research area


Driver: The need to collect all efforts and knowledge in managing the coronavirus crisis and widely promote it to the Greek academic and research community was identified at the very beginning of the pandemic, back in April. As a response, Athena Research & Innovation Center (Athena RC) initiated a series of informative and educational online workshops to support research performed around COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2. Furthermore, Athena RC developed a dedicated website that serves as an extensible and searchable tool indexing COVID-19 related initiatives and services produced by Greek research and academic institutions.

The series: The workshops are organized in the context of activities of the OpenAIRE Greek National Open Access Desk, the RDA National Node, and ELIXIR-GR. The first workshop was quite successful and highlighted the need for better communication, more collaborations and continuation of discussions from more perspectives in coronavirus research. As a follow-up, a two-day web conference was organised in November to inform about the latest national developments in COVID-19 research, tools and best practices. This time, the scope expanded to also accommodate training sessions that enhance capacity building on the aforementioned areas. Indicative subject areas to be covered during the second series, in collaboration with other research infrastructures and institutions in Greece, are:

November 2020: The two workshops were supported by key actors in the Greek Research and Innovation area, who were invited to present their work and share their observations and achievements with the rest of the scientific community. More specific, these are: National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, National Center for Research & Technology Hellas, Hellenic Pasteur Institute, Biomedical Sciences Research Center "Alexander Fleming", Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens, Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas, Hellenic Academic Libraries Link, and the research infrastructure Inspired-RIs.

Their presentations informed about workflows and outputs of research activities on structural biology, biomedicine, bioinformatics and clinical studies as well as communicated best practices and tools for producing and sharing research data, software and scientific publications following the global demand for Open Science.

Take home messages: The workshops equally highlighted national achievements and areas where the Greek scientific community thrives in, such as work performed under the COVID-19 Greece flagship action, as well as unveiled challenges that scientists faced throughout the research conduct, mainly targeted to research data. Moreover, three areas were identified to greatly benefit from further considerations and improvements by national public bodies in the near future. These are:

  1. Timely and open access to clinical and primary medical data.

Scientists stressed the importance of immediate data availability and access to all research institutions and laboratories to accelerate processes such as modeling and tracing the spread of viruses. Complementary, the EC paradigm was provided to note that data should be processed according to recognized and widely accepted methods, such as anonymisation, that respect confidentiality of patients data and conforms to national rules and regulations for handling and sharing personal and sensitive data.

  1. Training and capacity building on research data management best practices and tools for clinicians and health professionals.

Discussions showed that those stakeholders are often missing from the Open Science equation due to lack of time (currently) or understaffed clinics / laboratories that by default limit their participation in equivalent training activities. The expertise and pool of data services (e.g. the Hellenic Data Service - HELIX or HARDMIN, ELIXIR-GR tools, etc) that research centers, research infrastructures and academic libraries hold was highlighted as a considerable asset that could be utilised to educate health professionals and students in acquiring and applying open science techniques in everyday work.

  1. Policies for data management and sharing.

Overall, it seems that the aforementioned challenges could be addressed centrally through e.g. a national policy on Research Data Management (RDM). Such a decision would increase the success rate and competitiveness of national data intensive research and positively impact the national research and innovation ecosystem's response in natural hazards, such as the pandemic, in the long-term. That way institutions, including hospitals and health university departments, are provided with clarity and support on the expected processes to be put in place and followed, while aligning practices on policy adoption and its seamless implementation. The collective proposal of eleven national academic & research organizations and twenty-six research infrastructures & civic initiatives for a National Open Science Plan was mentioned as a reference point for this endeavour.

Coming up: Two more workshops are planned for 2020 focusing on computing and Data Management Planning (DMP). In the beginning of December, ELIXIR-GR will offer hands-on training to familiarize researchers with the Galaxy service. Finally, the last workshop of the year will be about using OpenAIRE's DMP service, Argos, to document RDM practice.

In detail: On both days, prof. Yannis Ioannidis, President and General Director of the Athena Research & Innovation Center, welcomed speakers and participants and highlighted the importance of further reinforcing the scientific community and collaborations to timely and effectively address emerging challenges in the battle against the coronavirus disease.

On November 5, presentations covered the thematic areas of Open Science, Structural biology, Biomedicine and tools. Communicating Open Science requirements for COVID-19 related research showcased the shift to open access and data management as integral parts of the scientific practice and their acknowledgment in the global research area. Presentations also provided insight on the latest developments in collaborations and outcomes derived in the context of the flagship initiative for COVID-19, coordinated by the General Secretariat of Research and Technology. Furthermore, participants were exposed to a multidisciplinary array of research methods and workflows, tools and services developed and/ or used in natural and applied sciences.

  • Elli Papadopoulou, Athena Research & Innovation Center, OpenAIRE Greek NOAD: information about global shift on Open Science research practices and tools supporting responsible research data management and sharing, such as Argos for creating Data Management Plan (DMP), Amnesia for data anonymization and BIP! Finder for COVID-19 for searching scientific publications based on impact criteria.
  • Giannis Tsakonas, Hellenic Libraries Link: activities undertaken by HEAL-Link to enhance scholarly communication and an analysis of Greek affiliated publications in scientific journals during the pandemic.
  • Konstantinos Poulas, University of Patras & Research Infrastructure for Structural Biology INSPIRE: study on how SARS-CoV-2 interacts with the nicotinic cholinergic system to estimate the role of nicotine in COVID-19 infection as a protective effect.
  • Dimitris Thanos, Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens: diagnosis activities, tools (to be) developed for research data analysis and the Flagship Research Action concerning the "Epidemiological study of SARS-CoV-2 in Greece".
  • Timokratis Karamitros, Pasteur Hellenic Institute: information about the immediate response of the Institute to the outbreak of COVID-19 by dedicating laboratories to research and providing samples analysis.

The second day of the workshop (November 6), revolved around Clinical studies, Life Sciences, Open Science and tools. More specific, a diverse set of endeavours in epidemiological research was presented and challenges as well as deficiencies were reported when / where observed. In addition, tools that support COVID-19 research as well as innovative solutions produced by research infrastructures and institutions were analysed. Last presentations focused on sharing best practices on data and software management while pinpointing the significant collaborative response and contribution of the global Open and FAIR scientific community.

Q&A: Data availability and access were two of the key areas that the workshops aimed to understand in the Greek Research Area. Almost all speakers and participants expressed their views on open access to research data and pointed out the areas that could be strengthened in the short and long term. Discussions also helped to address misconceptions, among other things, about open access publishing and open peer reviews. The need to engage more clinicians and health professionals in the COVID-19 series became evident and all speakers and participants were urged to diffuse outcomes and future invitations of the online workshops through their communication channels.

You may find the recordings and presentations of the November events here.

Contact OpenAIRE in Greece:


First workshop on COVID-19 in April - Tools, activities, best practices and contact points in Greece

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