NIH offers data science $96 million

By Anthony Brino
10:12 AM

The National Institutes of Health is going to fund several new Big Data to Knowledge Centers of Excellence, from a budget of $96 million over the next four years.

“This era of ‘Big Data’ taxes the ability of biomedical researchers to locate, analyze, and interact with these data (and more generally all biomedical data) and associated software due to the lack of tools, accessibility, and training,” the NIH wrote in its request for applications

Biomedical research is facing challenges in managing such large data and its IT, and there is also a movement afoot for greater data openness and exchange between industry and academic researchers.

“Biomedical research is increasingly data-intensive,” the NIH said. “Yet the ability to manage, integrate and analyze such data, and to locate and use data generated by others, is often limited.”

The grants are part of the NIH’s Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative, which “aims to enable a quantum leap in the ability of the biomedical research enterprise to maximize the value of the growing volume and complexity of biomedical data,” said Eric Green, MD, the NIH’s acting associate director for data science and director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

With the long-term goal of advancing quantitative sciences in general, the NIH is also looking to fund investigators from outside of traditional biomedical areas who may already be using data science in other fields.

In medicine, the goal is to eventually help integrate previously-siloed biomedical and health data — medical images, clinical and behavioral health records, environmental data, genomics and other molecular data. Outside of healthcare (or possibly related to it), the NIH is also looking to fund research of data from “social media, search histories, and cell phone data.”

In addition to the technology access problems researchers currently face, the NIH wants to address a few technical and policy issues by standardizing data and metadata.“ Investigators need data to be in standard formats to facilitate interoperability, data sharing, and the use of tools to manage and analyze the data,” the NIH wrote in its RFA. “The datasets need to be described by standard metadata to allow novel uses as well as reuse and integration.”

For researchers looking to apply for the grants — up to $2 million per project annually — the application due date is November 20, 2013.   

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