Texas health center taps Semantic Web

By John Moore
12:00 AM

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston is using Semantic Web technology to boost its bio-surveillance effort.

The UT Houston center has tapped Semantic Web offerings from Oracle and TopQuadrant. The Semantic Web provides a framework for sharing data across applications. The technology aims to improve data integration and domain-specific search engine capabilities, among other areas, according to the World Wide Web Consortium, which leads the Semantic Web effort.

The center used Semantic Web technology to build its Situational Awareness and Preparedness for Public Health Incidences Using Reasoning Engines (SAPPHIRE) system. That system culls health and epidemiological data from local health providers, hospitals and pharmacies.

SAPPHIRE uses Semantic Web technology to integrate and manage data collected from the various health care sources. Specifically, the UT center built the system's architecture using Oracle's Resource Description Framework Data Model integrated with TopQuadrant's TopBraid Composer, a tool for developing Semantic Web ontologies and building semantic applications, according to TopQuadrant. Oracle's RDF Data Model is a component of Oracle Spatial 10g, which, in turn, is an option to Oracle's 10g database.

The use of Semantic Web facilitates public health surveillance and symptom trending, according to Oracle.

Dr. Parsa Mirhaji, director for the Center for Biosecurity and Public Health Informatics Research at the UT center, said SAPPHIRE was developed on top of the Situational Awareness Reference Architecture (SARA) to meet the expectations of the Public Health Information Network and the National Health Information Network.

"SARA's conceptualization has been completely based on the frameworks and technologies provided by Semantic Web," Mirhaji said. Those frameworks and technologies include resource definition, information representation, ontology engineering and computer reasoning in Web-like environments, he added.