This topic is under construction for the 21.3 (March 2021) release of LabKey Server. For current documentation of this feature, click here.

Premium Feature — Available in the Enterprise Edition of LabKey Server. Learn more or contact LabKey.

Ontologies help research scientists in many specialties reconcile data with common and controlled vocabularies. Aligning terms, hierarchies, and the meaning of specific data columns and values is important for consistent analysis, reporting, and cross-organization integration. An ontology system will standardize concepts, understand their hierarchies, and align synonyms which describe the same entities. You can think of an ontology like a language; when your data is all speaking the same language, greater meaning emerges.

Ontology Module

The ontology module enables reporting and using controlled vocabularies. Many such vocabularies are in active use in different research communities. Some examples:

  • NCIT (NCI Thesaurus): A reference terminology and biomedical ontology
  • LOINC (Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes): Codes for each test, measurement, or observation that has a clinically different meaning
  • SNOMED_CT (Systemized Nomenclature of Medicine - Clinical Terms): A standardized multilingual vocabulary of clinical terminology used for electronic exchange of health information
  • MSH (Medical Subject Headings): Used for indexing, cataloging, and searching for health related information
  • Find more examples in the National Library of Medicine metathesaurus

Generate Ontology Archive

The first step is to generate an ontology archive that can be loaded into LabKey. A set of python scripts is provided with the module on GitHub to help you accomplish this.

The archive will contain individual text files:

  • concepts.txt: (Required) The preferred terms and their codes for this ontology. The standard vocabulary.
  • hierarchy.txt: (Recommended) The hierarchy among these standard terms, expressed in levels and paths to the codes. This can be used to group related items.
  • synonyms.txt: An expected set of local or reported terms that might be used in addition to the preferred term, mapping them to the code so that they are treated as the same concept.

Load and Use Ontologies

To learn about loading ontologies onto your LabKey Server and enabling their use in folders, see this topic: Load Ontologies

Once an ontology has been loaded and the module enabled in your folder, the field editor will include new options and you can use ontology information in your SQL queries.

Concept Annotations

Concept annotations let you link columns in your data to concepts in your ontology. The field editor will include an option to associate the column with a specific concept. For example, a "medication" column might map to a "NCIT:ST1000016" concept code used in a centralized invoicing system.

Learn more in this topic: Concept Annotations

Ontology Lookup Fields

The field editor also includes an Ontology Lookup data type. This field type encompasses three related fields, helping you take an input value and look up both the preferred term and the code used in the ontology.

Learn more in this topic: Ontology Lookup

Ontologies in SQL

New LabKey SQL syntax allows you to incorporate ontology hierarchy and synonyms into your queries.

Learn more in this topic: Ontology SQL

Related Topics

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