Research Infrastructure

Why we need open access infrastructure?

Presently, one of the more interesting topics for science policy is to identify organizational solutions which would enable both to manage efficiently the financial resources available and to allow an inclusive access, based on scientific evaluation of the applicant and its project, to equipment, know-how and highly qualified scientific and technological services, not easily replicable.

The preferred organizational scheme is given by an international network of Research Infrastructure (RI), dedicated locations supplied with expensive scientific equipments, able to provide know-how and research services. The aim is to conduct highly qualified basic and applied research for a whole sector, and also to encourage the convergence of different disciplines, of different national and international scientific community, public and private. These RI can be arranged in a single location (such as CERN), or can be distribuited on the territory.

The development of the modern science depends both on good working hypothesis that can be drawn from creative researchers, included in any research institution (academic or other), and the availability of excellent scientific equipment and know-how, necessarily localized in a few locations, like the RI.

The creation of RI is therefore an answer both to the increase of the number of researchers on a worldwide basis, and to the need to promote the development of science by making possible, for anyone with a valid project, to realize it under scientific and technological optimal conditions, in appropriate sites. The organizational scheme of open access RI goes beyond the previous centers of excellence, which allowed access to relevant equipment only to internal members of the structure.

The organization of an RI must be able to encourage the acceptance of outside researchers (for example, by providing temporary housing). Home institutions of the RI should allow their researchers carry out part of their scientific activities offsite. A good example is the use of CERN by Italian university professors of physics.

The ESFRI project for a network of european RI

In 2002, the EU has set up a body, independent from the European Commission, ESFRI (European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures), consisting of representatives of the relevant ministries of the 27 Member States, of the 9 Associated States and a representative of the European Commission. ESFRI task is to develop a long-term vision to support a policy of European RIs. ESFRI has developed a Roadmap in which he indicated what IR should be enhanced and/or created from scratch to make Europe fully competitive in scientific and industrial applications.

50 projects were selected from over three hundred proposals received. Almost all of the Member States and Associates have also developed national roadmap and identified the RI to which will be dedicated resources. An aliquot consisting of European RI is dedicated to Life Sciences and Biomedical Laboratories (BMS)


Tab. 1: Le IR europee di Scienze della Vita e Biomedicali.

At the end of 2011 ISBE (Infrastructure of Systems Biology Europe) was expected to start the Preparatory Phase (2012-2015): the 50 European centers of Systems Biology in 15 countries (including Italy, which with the center of Milano-Bicocca, directed by Prof. Lilia Alberghina, has actively participated in all the preparatory stage) will be coordinated and interconnected with distinct and complementary scientific activities.

The main focus of ISBE is to study how the interactions of biological components bring living organisms to operate in an constantly changing environment. ISBE will integrate molecular analyzes (including genome-wide), mathematical modeling and simulation analysis, a strong multi-disciplinary integration between traditionally quantitative sciences (physics, mathematics, computer science, engineering) with chemical and life sciences.

The three types of structure are ISBE: hubs, scientific centers of excellence in Systems Biology, providing open access to European researchers. These centers are characterized by a strong multidisciplinary approach in the field of life sciences, chemistry and quantitative sciences (mathematics, computer science, control theory, etc..) and the availability of sophisticated scientific equipment. Each hub is characterized or by an approach or a topic and is realized under one roof, to enable a more productive interaction between the different researchers. In the early stages some centers appear to be virtual, linking researchers placed a few distinct physical locations. Repositories, centers for the storage of data and models, real-time connections between all components represent the other network nodes.(Pic. 1)


Pic. 1: Connections among different types of structures of the ISBE net.

Hubs will be equipped with high-throughput technologies, with high scientific expertise stuff, competent in model systems and/or application (biomedical, biotech, environmental, etc.). They will also ensure to the training for younger generations of scientists.

ISBE impact will be relevant, in particular in the understanding of biological complexity in multi-factorial diseases (including cancer and neurodegeneration diseases). It is expected that ISBE and EATRIS interact closely in the area of drug discovery, in the validation of drug candidates and in the design of clinical activities.

General guidelines for ESFRI RI

Each RI is built around a core of existing scientific expertise in a particular field. The RI is characterized by the availability of specific equipment of large economic impact and is managed professionally according to criteria of project management. The RI ensures open access and collaboration of the staff with external users, which are chosen on a meritocratic basis.

The scientific activity of staff and users is supervised by a Scientific Director and an International Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), which also process the entrance and exit strategies for both staff and users. Overall, each RI offers a stimulating competitive and cooperative environment, particularly suited to liberate the creative potential and inventive of all operators.

RIs are also open to the industrial world: they can become a significant social and economic accelerators due to their ability to create a connective tissue that can integrate and bring together public and private institutions, attracting public and private funding, giving visibility to science and technology, helping to attract students to an higher education in science.

It is therefore evident that the creation of an international RI of a territory may involve different stakeholders and serve a driving force for the improvement of the potentialities of a geographic area: from the creation of new knowledge and skills training activities, the creation of new technologies, new business ventures, the increase in the average income, the improvement of local infrastructure (transport, housing, etc..), the whole thing makes it more effective public investment for research and innovation and can easily attract more private investment for innovation.

The Italian Roadmap for ESFRI Research Infrastructure

SysBio is included in the Italian Roadmap for ESFRI Research Infrastructure (source:; the project was submitted as “SysBioNet”, afterwards “SysBio”):


Tab. 2: Elenco delle infrastrutture pronte per la fase d’implementazione selezionate dai gruppi tematici tra le 220 sottomesse al MIUR con chiamata pubblica (scadenza 29 febbraio 2008).