Background: A fundamental goal of the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) "Roadmap" is to strengthen Translational Research, defined as the movement of discoveries in basic research to application at the clinical level. A significant barrier to translational research is the lack of uniformly structured data across related biomedical domains. The Semantic Web is an extension of the current Web that enables navigation and meaningful use of digital resources by automatic processes. It is based on common formats that support aggregation and integration of data drawn from diverse sources. A variety of technologies have been built on this foundation that, together, support identifying, representing, and reasoning across a wide range of biomedical data. The Semantic Web Health Care and Life Sciences Interest Group (HCLSIG), set up within the framework of the World Wide Web Consortium, was launched to explore the application of these technologies in a variety of areas. Subgroups focus on making biomedical data available in RDF, working with biomedical ontologies, prototyping clinical decision support systems, working on drug safety and efficacy communication, and supporting disease researchers navigating and annotating the large amount of potentially relevant literature.
Results: We present a scenario that shows the value of the information environment the Semantic Web can support for aiding neuroscience researchers. We then report on several projects by members of the HCLSIG, in the process illustrating the range of Semantic Web technologies that have applications in areas of biomedicine.
Conclusion: Semantic Web technologies present both promise and challenges. Current tools and standards are already adequate to implement components of the bench-to-bedside vision. On the other hand, these technologies are young. Gaps in standards and implementations still exist and adoption is limited by typical problems with early technology, such as the need for a critical mass of practitioners and installed base, and growing pains as the technology is scaled up. Still, the potential of interoperable knowledge sources for biomedicine, at the scale of the World Wide Web, merits continued work.