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Discussing access and transparency of big data in government

Discussing access and transparency of big data in government

Bourne

The Big Data in Biomedicine conference of 2014 continued today with discussion around how troves of information are being stored, organized, accessed and applied in a way that’s useful to stakeholders across health care.

Yesterday afternoon, Stanford bioengineer Russ Altman, PhD, introduced keynote speaker Philip Bourne, PhD, who earlier this year began his post as the first permanent associate director for data science at the National Institutes of Health. Altman was part of the search committee that selected Bourne as part of an initiative of NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, to make use of biomedical research datasets and lead the way in coordinating effective use of Big Data.

Bourne discussed some of the factors motivating thinking on big data at the NIH, including open access to information, which was also a focus of U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park‘s conference presentation. Bourne noted that currently 70 percent of research that’s funded cannot be reproduced – a statistic “of great concern to the NIH” that’s driving ongoing reproducibility studies there. But what worried him most, he said, is sustainability: How can growing databases be accommodated within the NIH’s flat budget? (“We can’t go on like this,” he said.) How can labs retain talent when competing with industry’s larger salaries offered to top scientists? (“It’s a loss to the field if you spend money making a biomedical scientist and they leave the field.”) Bourne also seeks to address “broken” areas of scholarship – a paper with “16,000 citations” that no one reads – and the reward system.

Among his solutions are applying business models to promote sustainability of research, introducing policies to ensure funding is allocated where it is most needed, sharing infrastructure where possible and treating biomedical scientists more like tenured academics. Bourne also described an NIH data commons to provide Dropbox-type storage and a collaborative compute environment for scientists.

Co-operating and data-sharing were key this morning as the conference audience heard from Taha Kass-Hout, MD, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration‘s first chief health informatics officer. He described the importance of big data to the regulatory agency’s mission “to protect and promote the public health” and in promoting information-sharing with transparency and protection of privacy. The new, scalable search and big-data analytics platform openFDA comprises more than 100 public access data sets within the FDA and  allows users to access data and run queries through APIs. “It’s not just about the data,” Kass-Hout told the audience. Ask rather, “How can you build a community around that data?

Previously: U.S. Chief Technology Officer kicks off Big Data in BiomedicineBig Data in Biomedicine conference kicks off tomorrowBig Data in Biomedicine technical showcase to feature companies’ innovations related to big data and Euan Ashley discusses harnessing big data to drive innovation for a healthier world
Photo of Bourne by Saul Bromberger

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