Open Source + Open Data = Open Science

Terry S. Yoo, Ph.D.

Head, 3D Informatics Program

Office of High Performance Computing and Communications  

National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health


The Insight Toolkit (ITK) is an open source software initiative for medical image analysis. This project has been executed by a geographically distributed consortium, and this international coalition has developed not only the image processing API, but also the necessary software engineering tools and infrastructure to support multiple platforms, a broad cross-section of compilers, and a variety of operating systems and programming languages. The success of this program is constantly being assessed, but the spread of ITK among international research laboratories and its incorporation as part of the software foundation of organizations such as the Allen Brain Institute and National Alliance for Medical Image Computing are strong indications of them impact that ITK is having on the community.


The future of initiative such as ITK will include the marriage of such software programs with public data collection and dissemination. Algorithms and techniques for image analysis and solid and physical modeling will require common validation datasets to allow comparison of emerging methods among research groups. The ability to reproduce results between laboratories using common software and open data will accelerate the confirmation and acceptance of new approaches and improve communication within the community. This form of open science is one of the great strengths and opportunities available to a discipline such as medical imaging and modeling, founded as it is in a digital domain. The resulting synthesis of open source and open data will lead to a new era in medical research.