White House panel proposes a systems infrastructure for biomedical R&D

White House panel proposes a systems infrastructure for biomedical R&D

BY TONY LEE ORR | GCN STAFF

The President's Information Technology Advisory Committee has called for a nationwide systems infrastructure for biomedical research.

In a report last month to President Bush, Transforming Health Care Through Information Technology, the committee recommended an infrastructure that includes an aggressive biomedical computing capability similar to that of the Energy Department's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative.

'By applying high-end computing to complex problems, biomedical researchers have developed more accurate ways to locate abnormalities where traditional experimentation would be costly, unethical, dangerous or simply impossible,' the report said.

For example, at the National Cancer Institute's Advanced Biomedical Computing Center in Frederick, Md., researchers use supercomputers to simulate processes that proteins undergo at the atomic level [GCN, Aug. 23, 1999, Page 1].

Using high-end computing to pull information from large clinical databases with related genetic information could help scientists understand the relationships among inheritance, disease development and varying responses to therapy, the report said.

Lives at risk

'Reliability of systems and software is critical for many health care applications,' the report also noted. 'Human life may be at risk if information sent to medical monitoring or dosage equipment is corrupted or degraded, or if electronic medical records cannot be accessed in a timely and reliable way.'

Besides the creation of a national biomedical infrastructure, the committee suggested establishing pilot projects to try to extend practical uses of IT. Dr. John Loonsk, associate director of informatics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, supported this idea.

The medical community is concentrating on activities that improve and define data standards to prepare for a national infrastructure, Loonsk said. Medical professionals need to leverage existing standards and continue to focus on furthering those standards before implementing too much too soon, he said. Many interoperability and privacy questions remain unanswered, as well, Loonsk said.

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