HAN BioCentre embraces Vartion's Firenze

Vartion and Centre of Expertise HAN BioCentre have signed a contract for the use of Vartion’s Firenze for research and educational purposes. Firenze is a rapid AI prototyping platform that offers the perfect environment to test data quality and suitability for AI applications.

biocentre data-science7. Martijn van der Pol, Philip de Groot

Firenze will be used by students in the bachelor bio-informatics educational programme and researchers in the group of Christof Francke, associate professor Bio-informatics. Their mission: harnessing the power of AI to drive innovation in agro, food and health.

Dr Christof Francke, who has an MSc. in (bio)chemistry and a PhD in biophysics, has been working in the field of genomics, bio-informatics and data science for the past 20 years, of which 10 at CoE HAN BioCentre. We asked him some questions about his work and how Firenze contributes.

What is the significance of AI in your field?


“Given the data-richness of modern life science and biotechnological research, AI has a high potential to create value. This is why AI is being applied more and more in the field.”

Can you mention a few specific topics your group is working on?
“At CoE HAN BioCentre we focus on implementing key enabling technologies to support bio-based innovations in biotechnology and drug discovery. Examples are CRISPR-CAS mediated modification, production of biomolecules through fermentation of biomass, Next Generation Sequencing, and screening using organoids or micro-organisms.”

What is the role of rapid AI prototyping in your work?
“Knowledge-based data analysis, applied to structured as well as non-structured data, is essential to support our research activities. We’re currently building up experience with the use of AI prototyping to advance these analyses. Our teachers and students are heavily involved in this endeavour.”

What made you decide to use Firenze for rapid AI prototyping? 
“Given our long-standing collaboration with Vartion, we knew Firenze. We decided to test it in various exploratory student projects because of its reliability in terms of operation and explainability of the outcome. We can now quickly explore the value of particular types of AI/data modelling to support our analyses, without the hassle of first having to implement a lot of software and organise its use by a larger group of people.”

What difference has Firenze made so far?
“We’re currently rounding off the pilot projects, and we’re pleased with the robustness of Firenze and the ease of use. At this stage, it’s still too early to say how much our data analysis pipelines have been enhanced. We’re hopeful, though, especially for future use, given the adaptability of the platform.”

How would you describe your partnership with Vartion?
“Like I said, our relationship with Vartion goes way back, and we know the developers well. Many of our students have found internship positions and also jobs within the company. Communication lines are short, and we can have constructive, informed discussions, which is extremely important when doing research.”

Mark Lamers, CEO of Vartion: “We’re very pleased to contribute to HAN BioCentre’s research through Firenze. The AI-powered search engine that forms the heart of all Vartion’s products was, after all, originally developed to support life science research. Firenze, a rapid AI prototyping platform we created to help design our tools Harvey and Pascal, has now been made available to third parties with AI ambitions of their own. The partnership with HAN aligns perfectly with our ultimate goal: complementing human intelligence through AI and giving that excellent capacity back to society.”