Scripps Translational Science Institute Part of Big Data Research Consortium

NIH grant will support initiative to harness biomedical data

Scripps Translational Research Institute (STSI) has joined with other Southern California research centers to create a new Center for Excellence for Big Data Computing.

San Diego researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) will receive more than $4.4 million as part of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative called “Big Data to Knowledge” (BD2K).


The funding will be part of a new Center for Excellence for Big Data Computing at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), one of the 12 new centers nationwide announced today by the NIH. Over the course of the four-year grant, TSRI will receive roughly $3.8 million and STSI, more than $600,000.


“Today’s biomedical research is generating a huge amount of data,” said Andrew Su, a TSRI associate professor and faculty member at STSI who is a co-director of the new center. “In fields such as genomics and proteomics, researchers require increasingly powerful tools to make sense of their findings and extract valuable information that could lead to improvements in human health.”


With the new grant, the center will set up platforms that enable the scientific community and the public to collectively and collaboratively mine data. While in the world of scarce data it might have made sense for labs to keep hard-won data close to the vest, in today’s world of ”big data” Su believes a single lab can often benefit from a more open approach that can reveal hidden links to other areas of biology.


The current project will also accelerate one of his lab’s research efforts to create a “citizen science” platform to organize biomedical knowledge. His research has shown that the general public can effectively contribute to this effort by reading scientific abstracts and highlighting biomedical concepts.


“The scientific community can build off of this centralized database, instead of having everyone reinventing the wheel,” said Su. He added that this project could be especially important for collecting scattered data on rare diseases.


The new center also will tap into the Scripps Wellderly Genome Resource (SWGR), a reference DNA dataset built by researchers at STSI, led by Director of Genome Informatics Ali Torkamani, from the whole genome sequences of participants in the Wellderly Study. All of those participants have lived at least 80 years without developing any chronic disease, making the SWGR stand out from other genetic references.


Because the SWGR contains information from a long-living, healthy population, it can serve as a control group for a wide range of genomic studies of most late-onset adult diseases.


“The future of medicine is about dealing with each individual’s big data, which we never had before,” said STSI Director Eric Topol, MD. “We are thrilled to be part of the Big Data to Knowledge NIH consortium to advance this vital mission.”


In addition to UCLA, TSRI and STSI (which is a collaboration between TSRI and Scripps Health ), the new center, directed by UCLA Geffen School of Medicine’s Professor Peipei Ping, will include scientists at the European Bioinformatics Institute, University of Mississippi Medical Center, and Sage Bionetworks.


The number of the grant is 1U54 GM114833.

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