NIH launches ‘Data Commons’ program to aid researchers

$9M funding aims to improve data accessibility to speed biomedical discoveries, says Francis Collins, MD.

The National Institutes of Health is launching a four-year $9 million pilot program through which 13 organizations will receive funding to develop a shared cloud-based platform that will enable scientists to work with the “digital objects” of biomedical research.

A digital object is anything that could exist on a computer or the Internet, such as data, software, apps and analytics tools, according to NIH. In total, more than 30 entities--organizations and institutions—will share the funding.

The goal of the NIH Data Commons pilot is to accelerate biomedical discoveries by making research findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.

“Harvesting the wealth of information in biomedical data will advance our understanding of human health and disease,” says Francis Collins, MD, director of NIH. “However, poor data accessibility is a major barrier to translating data into understanding. The NIH Data Commons Pilot Phase is an important effort to remove that barrier.”

Also See: NIH brain research initiative to leverage network of data resources

In particular, three NIH-funded data sets will serve as test cases in the pilot program. These include the Genotype-Tissue Expression set that examines the mechanisms of gene regulation; Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine initiatives to understand heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders; and the Alliance of Genome Resources, a series of databases to share data, standardize data models and interfaces, and reach out to researchers, educators and the public.

NIH has tapped the MITRE Corporation to provide support services that include cloud-based computing and storage of scientific data as well as analytics to assess usage, costs and comparative business models.

Institutions receiving NIH funding along with their core tasks include:
  • University of North Carolina Chapel Hill: Collaboration tools for the NIH Data Commons
  • University of California at Davis: Tools and workflows for mining genomic data on multiple clouds
  • Seven Bridges Genomics: Data to drive cures
  • University of Chicago: A common platform to promote continuous fairness
  • Harvard Medical School: Patient-centric information under FAIR Principles supporting knowledge discovery
  • Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai: Development of community supported guidelines and metrics
  • University of California at San Diego: Cloud-agnostic architecture to locate objects and safety reuse them
  • University of California at Santa Cruz: Accelerate creation of an NIH Data Commons
  • University of Maryland: NIH Data Commons Facilitation Center
  • University of Michigan: Studies of rare genetic variation
  • Broad Institute: A portal and integrative collaborative analytics platform
  • Stanford University: Genomic resources for the yeast Saccharomyces (fungi)
  • University of Washington: Rare variants and other observable characteristics of an organism.

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