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Alan Rector

Speaker Photograph of Alan Rector

Alan Rector is Professor of Medical Informatics in the Department of Computer Science at University of Manchester. Over the past twenty-five years he has led a series of projects on clinical decision support, medical records and medical terminology including the ground breaking PEN&PAD project project on intelligent medical records sponsored jointly by the UK Medical Research Council and Department of Health.

During the 1990s his work focused on medical terminology and ontologies. Since 2002 he has led the MRC sponsored Cooperative Clinical E-Science Framework (CLEF) consortium of seven UK universities, NHS trusts, and cancer networks which aims to provide "joined up" information solutions for clinical care and clinical and bioscience research in cancer. From 2003 he led the JISC and EPSRC funded Co-ODE and HyOntUse projects, working with Stanford University and Epistemics to create a new platform for cooperative ontology development. His work on clinical terminology and ontologies provided a key stimulus for the technologies underpinning the Semantic Web.

He has been a visiting senior scientist at Stanford University and consultant to the NHS Information Authority, Hewlett Packard, the Mayo Clinic and a variety of smaller companies. He is a member of the JISC Committee for the Support of Research, the National Cancer Research Institute Board for Bioinformatics, the Joint NHS/Higher Education Forum on Informatics and the Board of the Academic Forum of the UK Institute for Health Informatics. In 2003, Professor Rector was awarded the first British Computer Society Health Informatics Committee award for lifetime service to health informatics.

He currently leads the Co-ODE and HyOntUse projects developing user oriented ontology development environments under the JISC and EPSRC Semantic Web and Autonomic Computing initiatives as well as the CLEF project, developing secure and ethical methods to collect live patient record data in research repositories, under the MRC eScience initiative.

He received his BA in philosophy and mathematics from Pomona College, his medical training at the universities of Chicago and Minnesota where he obtained his MD, and his PhD in medical informatics from the University of Manchester.


Semantic Webs and the Semantic Web: Services, Resources and Technologies for Clinical Care and Biomedical Research

The Semantic Web will affect clinical care and research in four broad ways:

  • Through improved information on The Semantic Web - i.e. improvements to the Web in general. This is the most obvious but most speculative - and the area in where the results of competition with Google and other web-searching technologies and with other emergent technologies is most difficult to predict.
  • Through tightly integrated and focused Semantic Webs serving distributed communities for specific purposes - i.e. specialised collaborative tools for distributed knowledge resources. These developments are most obvious in the molecular biology community where large databases and knowledge bases such as the Gene Ontology, SwissProt, and the Human Genome itself are the prime repositories.
  • Through the shift from information and knowledge to services - Service Oriented Architectures, Agents, and Workflows. These developments are allowing much greater automation of routine tasks. By providing a framework in which methods can be specified at a higher level of abstraction and then the services to instantiate those methods discovered and combined, these approaches can reduce days of repetitive tedium to minutes or hours so allowing attention to be given to substance problem solving rather than the mechanics.
  • Through the development of more powerful semantic languages, tools, standards, and methodologies which may find application beyond the Semantic Web itself. The alphabet soup of new languages - RDF(S), OWL, SWRL, etc - are powerful in their own right and the tools - JENA, Protege, Swoop, etc - may well have much wider application. In particular in the medical area, they promise to bring the techniques needed to deal with large terminologies and the binding of terminologies, health record, and messaging within the grasp of modest adaptations of routine tools.

The implication of each of these developments will be discussed and possible applications and opportunities explored.

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