Seeking Innovative Methods in Biomedical Informatics and Data Science

concept image: outline of a human brain blends with lines of binary code and other mathematical and scientific formulae

Guest post by Dr. Valerie Florance, Director of the NLM Division of Extramural Programs.

It is an exciting time to be a biomedical informatician or data scientist.

First, NLM has committed to transforming the infrastructure of biomedical research and health care. In support of that, NLM’s research grant programs help fund the computational, informatics, and information science aspects of biomedical research to develop and test novel methods with broad application to the research enterprise. NLM supports projects ranging from machine learning to information visualizations, virtual environments, and more.

Second, biomedical data are becoming more readily available. In fact, the production and availability of biomedical data that can be re-used for new research are expanding quickly as NIH works to ensure data generated in NIH-funded research are shared.

Third, Congress has funded several large-scale biomedical research programs at NIH, including the Cancer Moonshot, the HEAL Initiative (Help End Addiction Long-term), and the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies). These represent new opportunities for informaticians and data scientists to bring informatics and data science innovation into the heart of basic biomedical research.

For example, the HEAL Initiative, targeting the opioid epidemic, is studying the biological factors involved in chronic pain. One line of research focuses on discovering and validating biomarkers, biomarker signatures, and endpoints for pain (with a related workshop coming up November 14 and 15, in Washington, DC.). NIH has released multiple funding announcements supporting the HEAL Initiative, with NLM participating in those with computational or informatics elements.

Informatics also cuts across the work of the NIH BRAIN Initiative, which is aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain. The initiative is focusing its first five years (2016-2020) on developing tools and technologies to advance the field of neuroscience research. The second five-year period will concentrate on applying and refining those tools. A current request for information, open until November 15, 2018, seeks new ideas and directions for the next five-year period.

These two examples of large-scale biomedical research initiatives will benefit tremendously by the extramural community of informatics and data science researchers becoming involved. I encourage your input and participation.

If you do not already subscribe to the weekly update of the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts, now’s the time to do so, as all new announcements for initiatives such as these will be published there in the coming months. You can also sign up to receive updates specifically about the HEAL Initiative, including webinars and other events.

It is an exciting time to be a biomedical informatician or data scientist, and it’s an even more exciting time to partner with NLM and NIH as we work to accelerate data-driven discovery.

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