UM Awarded NIH Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) Grant

A team of University of Miami researchers is part of a trio of institutions that have been awarded a $20 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to create a Center to integrate and analyze large and diverse datasets of cellular signatures as part of the Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative. The award, of which there is only one in the nation, is to create a Data Coordination and Integration Center for the Library of Integrated Network-based Cellular Signatures (LINCS) program, which is a large-scale effort to study the molecular underpinnings of disease compared with healthy cellular programming.

Leading the UM team is Stephan Schürer, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular and cellular pharmacology at the Miller School and Chemoinformatics Program Leader at UM’s Center for Computational Science (CCS). “This award is the result of years of research,” said Schürer, who was involved in the LINCS pilot phase as principal investigator of one of the Computational Centers previously funded by the NIH. “Our Center will facilitate the processing of enormous amounts of data that will lead researchers across a broad spectrum to make key discoveries.”

The technological growth that is fueling biomedical research, such as massive transcriptional, proteomics, epigenetics and phenotypic profiling and imaging, has created a need for improved methods of describing, integrating, accessing and harnessing enormous amounts of data to make new discoveries. The BD2K initiative is aimed at creating multi-institution collaborations to mine this information under a common framework in order to improve health with better prediction and treatment of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Efficient and effective use of massive biomedical information has created a series of challenges for researchers. Among them are a lack of common standards, a need for effective software tools, a lack of access to the data for individual scientists and computational training.

This project establishes the Data Coordination and Integration Center (DCIC), which will be made up of four components: Integrated Knowledge Environment, Consortium Coordination and Administration, Data Science Research, and Community Training and Outreach. Each of the areas will coordinate with the LINCS project, which began 10 years ago at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Researchers created a database of molecular signatures by treating four human cancer cell lines with more than 1,000 drugs. Gene expressions were then measured in the presence of each drug, creating a database that displayed the functions of new drugs compared to existing drugs. This discovery, known as the Connectivity Map, established the LINCS program.

Co-investigator Vance Lemmon, Ph.D., Walter G. Ross Distinguished Chair in Developmental Neuroscience and professor of neurological surgery at the Miller School, Christopher Mader, Director of Software Engineering at CCS, and Ubbo Visser, Ph.D., M.Sc., associate professor of computer science, round out the multi-disciplinary UM team engaged in this project.

“Data creation in today’s research is exponentially more rapid than anything we anticipated even a decade ago,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “Mammoth data sets are emerging at an accelerated pace in today’s biomedical research and these funds will help us overcome the obstacles to maximizing their utility. The potential of these data, when used effectively, is quite astounding.”

Schürer and the UM team will collaborate with principal investigator Avi Ma’ayan, Ph.D., from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Mario Medvedovic, Ph.D., of the University of Cincinnati.

Nick Tsinoremas, Ph.D., professor of medicine, Director of the Center for Computational Science, and Director of the Biomedical Informatics Program at UM’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, congratulated the team. “This remarkable achievement puts UM and the Miller School of Medicine at the forefront of big data.”

The grant will provide $2.5 million in funding the first seven months, followed by $4.3 million annually for the next four years.

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