NLM’s Research Mission: Advancing Data and Information Science

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Guest post by Richard C. Palmer, DrPH, JD, Acting Director, Division of Extramural Programs, National Library of Medicine (NLM), National Institutes of Health.

This month marks my two-year anniversary with NLM and the Division of Extramural Programs. In this time, I have come to realize that many people do not know that NLM has a comprehensive research program that fulfills part of NLM’s important mission. NLM is more than just a resource for credible health information, scientific literature and research resources, but also plays a critical role in helping to shape scientific and technological directions. 

NLM has both a Division of Intramural Research and a Division of Extramural Programs. The Division of Intramural Research leads cutting-edge research that helps to accelerate scientific advances in computational biology and computational health science. Similarly, the Division of Extramural Programs provides funding for research projects at universities and research organizations, both domestically and internationally, that are aimed to improve the quality and effectiveness of health information and informatics tools, including those that support patient-centered care, precision medicine, and public health.

The Division of Extramural Programs has a robust research program and supports resource and training grants, as well as investigator-initiated research grants (R01s and R21s), in the areas of biomedical informatics, data science, computational biology, and computational health. These grant awards represent some of the most innovative ideas that address scientific gaps or propose solutions to critical health problems. Central to many of these awards is the use of existing data. 

There is a wealth of data that can be harnessed for scientific exploration. Just think, many of our daily activities create data. How many steps you take is recorded by your smart device, the foods you buy are tracked by retailers, and of course, there is a wealth of patient care-related data generated in health care settings. However, the copious amount of data being generated presents a problem: It is not easily connected or analyzed and requires help from sophisticated computing applications such as artificial intelligence (AI). 

Subsequently, NLM has been leading the way in funding research that uses AI. AI is a branch of computer science focused on developing algorithms and computer systems that can perform tasks that typically require human intelligence. NLM recognized early on that AI has considerable potential for understanding and improving health, including the capacity to:

  • Analyze patient data and provide insights about disease risk.
  • Serve as the foundation for diagnostic tools that can identify diseases earlier and more accurately, allowing for faster and more effective treatment.
  • Help personalize treatment plans by analyzing large amounts of patient data, identify patterns, and make predictions about which treatments will be most effective for specific patients. 
  • Improve patient monitoring—for example, wearable devices that use AI can track a patient’s vital signs and alert clinicians to health problems.
  • Analyze enormous amounts of data to identify potential drug candidates, speeding up the drug discovery process.
  • Be used for data curation to make large volumes of health information findable and useable.

Although this is just a snapshot of what research NLM has funded, a common theme starts to emerge: Our funding directly supports cutting-edge science. But there is still much to do, and NLM is committed to advancing the science that supports biomedical informatics and its applications.

Just recently, the Division of Extramural Programs released PAR-23-034-NLM Research Grants in Biomedical Informatics and Data Science (R01 Clinical Trial Optional). This funding opportunity announcement provides support for research projects that aim to improve the dissemination and utilization of biomedical information and informatics tools to support health care, research, and public health. NLM invites investigator-initiated grants that propose to develop new methods and tools that are innovative and have the potential to be scalable. We welcome applications that propose solutions for managing and analyzing biomedical data and exploring the use of technology to improve patient care and outcomes; developing new tools and methods that manage and analyze large biomedical datasets; and understanding how AI can be used to achieve these desired solutions.

NLM is committed to its mission that supports and advances this kind of cutting-edge science and the researchers and investigators who make it happen. We especially welcome applications from new investigators who are establishing their data science careers. Foremost, applications proposed to NLM should align with NLM’s strategic plan, which reinforces the need to accelerate discovery by enhancing health through data-driven research.

If you have any questions about submitting a grant to NLM, please review Resources for Applicants or reach out to the Division of Extramural Programs for assistance. 

Richard Palmer, DrPH, JD

Acting Director, Division of Extramural Programs, NLM

Dr. Palmer oversees NLM’s grant programs for research, resources, workforce development, and small businesses related to biomedical informatics and data science. Prior to joining NLM, Dr. Palmer was a Health Scientist Administrator at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. He has over 25 years of extramural research experience and has been an investigator on NIH- and CDC-funded research grants. Dr. Palmer has conducted research in health care and community-based settings aimed at addressing health disparities, understanding health care decision-making, and improving health outcomes and disease management among older adults.

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