Health IT gets a boost with $200M Big Data project

The Obama administration is putting $200 million behind a big data effort that will benefit a number of industries, including healthcare and health IT. The "Big Data" project will focus on a wide variety of areas, from biomedical research to crowd-sourced data gathered, in real time, from social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

"In the same way that past Federal investments in information-technology R&D led to dramatic advances in supercomputing and the creation of the Internet, the initiative we are launching today promises to transform our ability to use Big Data for scientific discovery, environmental and biomedical research, education, and national security," John P. Holdren, Ph.D., assistant to the president and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), said in the White House announcement.

The National Science Foundation, one of several agencies that will support the initiative, has published a long list of solicitations for different big data projects that support its overall objectives, including:


  • Creating a complete health, disease and genome knowledge bases to enable biomedical discovery and patient-centered therapy
  • Ensuring a full complement of health and medical information is available at the point of care for clinical decision-making
  • Giving students and researchers intuitive real-time tools to view, understand and learn from publicly available large scientific data sets, including genome sequences and public health databases
  • Supporting research in particular domain areas--especially areas of national priority, including health IT


"To support these goals, [the National Institutes of Health] seeks proposals of core technologies and tools ... that take advantage of imaging, molecular, cellular, electrophysiological, chemical, behavioral, epidemiological, clinical and/or other data sets applicable to understanding health, and to preventing and treating ... various diseases and conditions," according to the Big Data program solicitation.

Proposals could run the gamut from predictive modeling techniques based on patient data, storage solutions that enable archiving, mining, retrieving, and analyzing diverse biomedical data sets, tools to mine and store emergent crowd-sourced datasets from social media platforms, and efforts to collect, de-identify, validate, archive and share large imaging files.

In addition to the Big Data project, NSF also is kicking off a long-term plan that includes encouraging research, funding a $10 million data project at the University of California, Berkeley, support for a geosciences data effort called Earth Cube, and more, according to an InformationWeek article.

NIH also has placed 200 terabytes of genomic data from the 100 Genomes Project--available for free--on Amazon Web Services' site.

Big data is a big deal, according to Tom Kalil, deputy director for policy at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

"By improving our ability to extract knowledge and insights from large and complex collections of digital data, the initiative promises to help accelerate the pace of discovery in science and engineering, strengthen our national security, and transform teaching and learning," he writes on an OSTP blog post.

"We also want to challenge industry, research universities and non-profits to join with the Administration to make the most of the opportunities created by Big Data.  Clearly, the government can't do this on its own.  We need what the President calls an ‘all hands on deck' effort."

To learn more:
- see the White House announcement (.pdf)
- read a description of the project on the NSF site
- check out the InformationWeek article
 - view the Big Data solicitation
- read the OSTP blog post

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