Big Data to Knowledge

NIH invests $32 million to crack big data

The National Institutes of Health announced grants to develop new technologies and strategies to leverage biomedical big data.

The NIH multi-institute awards constitute an initial investment of nearly $32 million in fiscal year 2014 by NIH’s Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative and will support development of new software, tools and training to improve access to these data and the ability to make new discoveries using them, NIH said in its announcement of the funding.

“Data creation in today’s research is exponentially more rapid than anything we anticipated even a decade ago,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins. “Mammoth data sets are emerging at an accelerated pace in today’s biomedical research, and these funds will help us overcome the obstacles to maximizing their utility.”

The grants will address the types of challenges researchers face in making the best use of biomedical big data:

  • Locating data and the appropriate software tools to access and analyze the information.
  • Lack of data standards or low adoption of standards across the research community.
  • Insufficient polices to facilitate data sharing while protecting privacy.
  • Unwillingness to collaborate that limits the data’s usefulness in the research community.

The grants will establish 12 centers that will each tackle specific data science challenges. The awards will also provide support for a consortium to cultivate a scientific community-oriented approach to the  development of a data discovery index and for data science training and workforce development.

 “The future of biomedical research is about assimilating data across biological scales from molecules to populations,” said Philip E. Bourne, Ph.D., NIH associate director for data science. “As such, the health of each one of us is a big data problem. Ensuring that we are getting the most out of the research data that we fund is a high priority for NIH.”

The four main components of the new BD2K awards are:

Centers of Excellence for Big Data Computing. These 11 centers will develop innovative approaches, methods, software, tools and other resources relevant to various aspects of big data science, such as data integration and use, analysis of genomic data and managing data from electronic health records.

BD2K-LINCS Perturbation Data Coordination and Integration Center. This center will be a data coordination center for the NIH Common Fund’s Library of Integrated Network-based Cellular Signatures (LINCS) program, which aims to characterize how a variety of types of cells, tissues and networks respond to disruption by drugs and other factors. The center will support data science research focusing on interpreting and integrating LINCS-generated data from different data types and databases in the LINCS-funded projects.

BD2K Data Discovery Index Coordination Consortium. This program will create a consortium to begin a community-based development of a biomedical data discovery index that will enable discovery, access and citation of biomedical research data sets.

Training and Workforce Development. These awards support the education and training of researchers who will specialize in data science fields, as well as those whose work may require certain expertise in the use of or generation of large amounts of data and data resources.

The BD2K initiative, launched in December 2013, is a trans-NIH program whose mission is to enable biomedical research as a digital research enterprise, to facilitate discovery and support new knowledge, and to maximize community engagement. 

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