NIH Announces Big Data Innovation Projects


The National Institutes of Health unveils a wide-ranging new research and development program focused on developing data analytics capabilities in healthcare. The program launched with the announcement that $32 million has already been committed to fund efforts at various organizations where researchers are dissecting some of healthcares largest data sets, looking not for cures, but for better ways of processing the information and extracting helpful insights.

The initiative, known as the NIH’s Big Data to Knowledge project, is slated to spend $656 million funding research projects by 2020. The grants will be used to support teams creating new tools and training programs that will help the US health care system use big data technologies to advance research capabilities, improve outcomes, and combat the rise of healthcare costs. With practices and hospitals merging to create massive, centralized EHR systems, DNA sequencing beginning to find its way into care delivery, and an overall increase in data-heavy research initiatives, the nations health system is creating far more data than ever before.

“Data creation in today’s research is exponentially more rapid than anything we anticipated even a decade ago. 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.” – NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

The funding will be used to create 12 research centers that will organize efforts across multiple research organizations to collectively tackle important data science initiatives. The centers will answer specific research questions, but will approach the problems they are tackling with the goal of creating new tools and technologies that would have broad use cases in healthcare. The focus of these centers will be on industry relevant topics, such as genome data analysis, and EHR data aggregation and analysis.

In San Francisco, researchers at Scripps Translational Science Institute were awarded $4.4 million from the fund to create a big data center of excellence at UCLA. The UCLA center of excellence will work alongside researchers from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the European Bioinformatics Institute, and Sage Bionetworks. The team will work to create a basic control group from one of Scripp’s genome data sets that was put together by using the sequenced DNA of patients that have lived beyond 80 years without  developing any chronic diseases.  By introducing a control group to the general research community, scientists working on genome sequencing projects will have access to a neutral data set to compare their own findings with, ultimately helping to discover new key genetic mutations.

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