We have recently reported an article published in the prestigious journal Scientific Data on our website. It is (co)authored by our colleague Rudolf Wittner, who told us about the benefits of his work in improving the quality of biomedical research and also about his musical career in an interview.
Rudo, you work in the Cybersecurity and Data Management Division. What exactly is your work about?
I mainly focus on research in the field of provenance information - information about the origin and history of objects. In our case, we work with information about research objects from biomedical research, which covers mainly the documentation of biological samples and/or data. As part of my second job, we are developing an ISO standard, where we directly apply the results of our research.
Provenance Information - could you please bring it closer?
More specifically, our work aims to increase the reliability of biomedical research by automatically describing all relevant processes using "unified documentation". This should subsequently significantly simplify the traceability and quality control of data and biological material and the reproducibility of the implemented processes.
„The goal of our work is to increase the quality of biomedical research..“
The point is that research objects are often transferred between organizations. I will provide an example – biological samples are taken in the hospital, then transported to the laboratory, where they are processed; subsequently, they can be stored in a biobank. Later, these samples can be used for analysis (e.g., by a private company), which results in generating data. And this data can be further processed or integrated with data from other sources (e.g., it can be used as input for training an artificial intelligence model).
The complication is that this whole life cycle involves several organizations, and each generates documentation only about a part of the life cycle of these objects. The fragmentation of this documentation is problematic because it often makes it impossible to verify the origin and quality of the examined objects (see, for example, one of many similar cases). And that's precisely the problem we're trying to solve.
We are developing a data model that will allow this documentation to be automatically generated. Then it will integrate documentation from different sources and subsequently process using a unified algorithm, regardless of which specific object is documented or from which source the given object comes. In other words, it is about ensuring semantic and syntactic interoperability.
„I believe there is a good chance that we will be able to solve the current problems with research reproducibility at least partially in some areas.“
At the same time, we are trying to address other non-trivial requirements placed on this documentation. These requirements are related to documentation integrity, authenticity, non-repudiation, sensitive content and access control, etc.
You recently succeeded with a paper titled "Lightweight Distributed Provenance Model for Complex Real-world Environments". Who will benefit from this research? And how?
Ideally, the entire population should benefit (laughs). And at least I have already benefited from it in the form of a financial reward for good scientific results (laughs).
And now, more seriously – basically, it is the first major integrated piece of work that we will continue to build on for the next few years. My vision is that really everyone will benefit from this research. If the research results can be standardized (which we are already working on), and if the given standard is accepted by industry and academia, I believe that there is a really good chance that we will be able to solve the current problems with research reproducibility at least partially in some areas. This should, in turn, increase the overall quality of research and save a pile of public and private funding. As the results of the study show, for example, approximately 28 billion dollars are spent annually on non-reproducible preclinical research in the USA alone.
You are also known for having an interesting hobby - you are into rap music. How did you get into rap?
It's simply a hobby. I have been involved in music practically since I was a child. I was engaged in dancing already during elementary school and later switched to playing the guitar, which actively stuck with me for about seven years. I used to take private classical guitar lessons and played in a punk band for a few years. Later I switched to rap. I currently have released three short albums (available on all streaming platforms like Spotify), one mixtape, and a few music videos. Now, I have started releasing singles, to which I release short live rap videos available on my Instagram and TikTok, for example.
How do you like to spend your time except for work and music?
I recently had two daughters, so I focus mainly on them and my wife. Otherwise, apart from rap, these are cliché activities - I like bodybuilding with bodyweight (calisthenics), traveling (mainly in Latin America), and food - I like visiting various restaurants in Brno.
RNDr. Rudolf Wittner
Research and development worker from the Cybersecurity and Data Management division, a MU Faculty of Informatics graduate in the field of information technology security, and a current Ph.D. student. He focuses on research in the field of provenance information.