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28 Apr 2020

Greek bottom-up initiative to collaborate and support COVID-19 research

The occasion: In March 2020, the crisis of the Coronavirus Disease 2019, COVID-19, which was declared as a pandemic affected Greece. COVID-19 is caused by the novel Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). 

The Greek Government immediately responded to the public health emergency by taking strong measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the country, such as an early lockdown, followed by intensive efforts to ease the new reality in everyday life of Greek citizens through the gradual transition to an e-society, marked by the recent launch of governmental portal


The need: At the same time, both the Greek academic and research communities urged to adapt, collaborate and expand their services for the benefit of COVID-19 research and, ultimately, the public good. Their efforts span from research infrastructures developing specialised services and portals, academic libraries and research centers securing access to electronic resources, tools and data repositories, to new initiatives in the fields of Health and Bioinformatics, including those in the form of hackathons. Despite achievements in the aforementioned areas, scholarly communication is yet to be collectively met through, e.g. a common point of reference that collates and shares these resources and knowledge, thus enhancing communication among stakeholders and strengthening collaborations, while enabling interdisciplinary research to be performed as well as increasing research support currently provided at national level.


The initiative: Athena Research Center (ARC), in the context of OpenAIRE Greek National Open Access Desk, the Research Data Alliance (RDA) Greek Node and ELIXIR-GR activities, responded to this need with a special webinar for COVID-19 research. The webinar is a bottom-up approach of ARC to assist and enhance existing efforts in a concerted way by spreading awareness about national activities, tools, best practices and contact points in Greece. Hence, experts and scientists from different domains were invited to talk about COVID-19 research from their scientific viewpoint and to inform about their contribution to ongoing actions against COVID-19 at national and European levels. 


Why it matters: The webinar proved to be very engaging for the academic and research communities, it strengthened communication between all actors and paved the way for more collaborations at the national level. The overwhelming response (326 participants) and fruitful discussions that arose at the day of the webinar, highlighted the need for a continuation of this endeavour to stimulate more in-depth conversations focusing on one scientific discipline at a time. Aiming at facilitating this dialogue between the academic and research communities, Athena RC is organising a series of webinars dedicated to specific aspects of COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 research.


Rec: Prof Yannis Ioannidis, President of Athena Research Center, opened the webinar. He welcomed participants and guest speakers and informed them about the nature and objectives of the webinar. Elli Papadopoulou, OpenAIRE Greek NOADs coordinator, and Fotis Karayannis, RDA Greek Node coordinator, explained how the webinar complements an ongoing activity in ARC to collect resources, tools, initiatives in order to develop a national guide for COVID research and how this effort in turn feeds into other initiatives such as the OpenAIRE COVID Gateway and the RDA COVID-19 Working Group and sub-groups. The national guide will be an open, living and shareable resource serving the beginning of a more coordinated and coherent cooperation between research centres, research groups and research infrastructures in Greece.


The European ecosystem: First set of presentations by Natalia Manola, Managing Director of OpenAIRE, and Fotis Psomopoulos, Researcher at CERTH, drew the bigger picture of COVID-19 research performed in the EOSC realm. OpenAIRE’s collaborative effort with Zenodo to build a research data collection and link all COVID-19 research artefacts together was pointed out and participants were invited to volunteer in curating this collection. Similarly, RDA’s effort to develop a guide for best practices on data sharing and related COVID-19 guidelines and recommendations for effective response in health emergencies was mentioned. Among other research infrastructures and tools presented are the EMBL-EBI COVID-19 Data Portal for exploring and sharing clinical and epidemiological data and SARS-CoV-2 Data Hubs for managing sequence data. SSHOC was given attention for preparing a multilingual thesaurus to be used for COVID-19 data identification and annotation thus providing greater interoperability. Also, COVID-19 Biohackathon challenges and preliminary outcomes were briefly explained.


National contribution: The next set of presentations were given by Leonidas Pispiringas from Heal-Link, Thanasis Vergoulis from ARC and Alexandros Dimopoulos from  B.S.R.C Alexander Fleming and ELIXIR-GR. Leonidas explained how access to specific scientific publishers’ content is ensured through HEAL-Link agreements and informed about HARDMIN, the universities data repositories which is currently being developed in cooperation with ARC. Thanasis provided another view for COVID-19 literature discovery through the BIP! Finder for COVID-19 portal which ranks scientific articles based on long-term and short-term impact metrics. Core services of the Hellenic Data Service “HELIX” for data analysis (HELIX Lab) and data deposit (HELIX Data) were also mentioned. Moreover, Alexandros concentrated on the B.S.R.C Alexander Fleming facilities, resources and expertise contributing to COVID-19 research, also in the context of the ELIXIR Greek Node. Among these are utilisation of existing services such as ELIXIR tools, GRNET’s fast track access to HPC resources, and the development of the new ELIXIR-GR Cloud Infrastructure (EG-CI).


Research Efforts: Last set of presentations were by Giota Touloumi from National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, and Kostas Eleftheriadis from NCSR “Demokritos”. Giota touched upon the basics of clinical and epidemiological research and how they evolve in the COVID-19 outbreak. She stressed that universities have a leading role to play in research conducted at a national level, such as the Laboratory of Hygiene, Epidemiology & Medical Statistics of the Medical School of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. Kostas focused on the nanotechnology side of things for research involving nanoparticles such as those responsible for the spread of SARs-CoV-2. He stated that NCSR “Demokritos” has equipment, also through PANACEA, to support - if needed - quality assessment research on alternative materials that are massively produced to protect those at the front-line and citizens.


Discussion: Guest speakers and participants engaged in live discussions to address specific challenges tied to the research data lifecycle, to further understand the current state of COVID-19 research in Greece and to make suggestions based on their scientific area and expertise. The topics that heavily occupied the discussion were around analysis of sequence data and about tests based on random samples of Greek population to be performed in the future. Finally, participants were invited to contribute to the national guide which is underway by contacting



For more information about the webinar and supporting material, see here.


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