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Biological data analysis is frequently performed with command line software. While this practice provides considerable flexibility for computationally savy individuals, such as investigators trained in bioinformatics, this also creates a barrier to the widespread use of data analysis software by investigators trained as biologists and/or clinicians. Workflow systems such as Galaxy and Taverna have been developed to try and provide generic user interfaces that can wrap command line analysis software. These solutions are useful for problems that can be solved with workflows, and that do not require specialized user interfaces. However, some types of analyses can benefit from custom user interfaces. For instance, developing biomarker models from high-throughput data is a type of analysis that can be expressed more succinctly with specialized user interfaces. Here, we show how Language Workbench (LW) technology can be used to model the biomarker development and validation process. We developed a language that models the concepts of Dataset, Endpoint, Feature Selection Method and Classifier. These high-level language concepts map directly to abstractions that analysts who develop biomarker models are familiar with. We found that user interfaces developed in the Meta-Programming System (MPS) LW provide convenient means to configure a biomarker development project, to train models and view the validation statistics. We discuss several advantages of developing user interfaces for data analysis with a LW, including increased interface consistency, portability and extension by language composition. The language developed during this experiment is distributed as an MPS plugin (available at http://campagnelab.org/software/bdval-for-mps/
This is a revised version following critiques obtained after peer-review at PeerJ.