We have a strategic plan. And that plan has three sound and notable goals. So why do we also need a big, hairy audacious goal?
The easy answer is that the Blue Ribbon Panel tasked with reviewing NLM’s intramural research program suggested it.
But the real answer pushes us further: To break the limits on our thinking and spark urgency.
Such a bold, risky goal quickens the pulse, sparks excitement, even kindles a bit of fear.
If we are going to achieve that, then we had better get moving.
But what should that be?
The Blue Ribbon Panel offered three ideas (PDF), each building on NLM’s “remarkable track record of research innovation and impact.”
- Next-Gen PubMed
Make PubMed the discoverability engine for the world. Transform it into the single point of access to an array of information types in the life sciences, including data sets, standards, clinical trials, federal health resources, and data science tools and methods. Integrate sophisticated inference capabilities that identify semantic relationships to pull together related content and deliver active learning capabilities and insights, not just hits.
- Computational public health
Create automated tools for disease surveillance and prediction, combining data from disparate sources, including other federal agencies and global partners. Link clinical and epidemiological data to whole genome sequence data for microbial pathogens to rapidly detect, identify, and mitigate the impact of emerging pathogens, pandemics, or malicious attacks.
- Artificial Intelligence in medicine
Build the tools and data management approaches that draw upon large volumes of personal health data to enable automated and precise diagnoses, prognoses, and patient treatment plans.
Any one of these will take years—and a lot of work, skill, coordination, and even luck—to achieve, but then that’s the idea. Big, hairy, audacious goals aren’t meant to be easy. They’re meant to get us reaching beyond what we thought possible.
In the context of NLM’s intramural research program, the Blue Ribbon Panel highlighted several attributes that such goals should possess:
- Integrate multidimensional data, including temporally dynamic data
- Impact many fields of biomedicine (including population health)
- Challenge experts in user interface and user experience
- Represent difficult multi- and interdisciplinary research challenges
- Build on unique strengths at NLM and NIH
- Provide measures of impact and success
- Require interactions with other agencies
- Raise profound informatics and data science research questions
- Represent a substantial engineering challenge for scaling and dissemination
Can we do it?
The Blue Ribbon Panel thinks so. They noted that NLM has achieved tremendous ambitions in the past, including the Unified Medical Language System, the foundational work that enabled CRISPR-Cas, and machine indexing of the world’s biomedical literature.
But is one of their three suggestions the clear and compelling goal that will get us where we want to be?
NLM will be working with stakeholders to examine that question and to identify and lay the groundwork for its future research agenda, but in the meantime let me ask you:
If you wanted to galvanize research across NLM and inspire the larger scientific community, what would you do? Let us know below.
The Blue Ribbon Panel, comprised of nine external experts in biomedical informatics and data science, was asked to look at the following issues:
- the strengths and weaknesses of NLM’s intramural research program as a whole
- the quality of it research and training programs
- the appropriateness of its organizational structure
- its relationship to other NIH Institutes and Centers
- its interactions with NLM’s highly regarded and widely used health information services and tools
- the effectiveness of its review and evaluation processes
- the suitability of its research facilities.
NLM has already begun reviewing the Blue Ribbon Panel’s recommendations (PDF) and charting a course forward. I’ll keep you apprised of our steps and strategies over the coming year.