That's where ontology comes in.
"The philosophical definition of ontology is the study of things that exist and how they relate to each other," says Ceusters, who also is director of the Ontology Research Group of UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences. "I am a person and you are a person so we share something. Suppose I drop dead. What lies on the floor? Is that still a person? If it is no longer a person, is it still the very same thing that was sitting here as a person but now is a corpse?"
Ceusters says that in much the same way, definitions of pain and especially of chronic pain need to be much more precise; ontology provides methods of distinguishing among categories and describing data in uniform and formal ways.
While the philosophical approach to ontology naturally has its roots in ancient Greece, a computational approach to ontology began in the latter part of the 20th century, when computer scientists interested in artificial intelligence wanted to create software programs that perform reasoning they way humans do. To do so, they began to draw on ontology.
"Here at the University at Buffalo, we excel at combining the two approaches; we have a very strong foundation in the philosophical approach to ontology with Barry Smith, who is a pioneer in contemporary ontology, especially related to biomedical applications," says Ceusters, "while we also have a very strong presence in computational approaches, especially to biomedical ontology. These computational approaches allow us to devise systems of communication in which there is a consistent meaning for terms used in different language systems and conceptual frameworks."
With the $793,571 NIH grant, Ceusters and colleagues will study data gathered from thousands of patients in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Sweden, Israel and Germany who suffer from oral and facial pain,
|Contact: Ellen Goldbaum|
University at Buffalo