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UCLA awarded $11 million to lead NIH Center of Excellence for Big Data computing

Scientists will harness 'gold mines' of digital data for biomedical research

University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences

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IMAGE: This is Peipei Ping, lead investigator of UCLA Center of Excellence for Big Data Computing. view more

Credit: UCLA

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have awarded UCLA $11 million to form a Center for Excellence for Big Data Computing. Part of an initial $32 million outlay for the $656 million Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative, the UCLA center will develop new strategies for mining and understanding the mind-boggling surge in complex biomedical data sets known as Big Data.

As one of 11 centers nationwide, UCLA will create analytic tools to address the daunting challenges facing researchers in accessing, standardizing and sharing scientific data to foster new discoveries. Investigators also will train the next generation of experts and develop data science approaches for use by scientists and the public.

"Most medical journals and hospitals have entered the digital age, resulting in an explosion of scientific studies and mountains of electronic health records," explained the UCLA center's principal investigator Peipei Ping, a professor of physiology, medicine and bioinformatics at the David Geffen School of Medicine. "Data is stored in diverse formats, making it difficult to compare and analyze. Researchers and consumers need a way to easily access and make sense of these gold mines of information to benefit patients."

Experts from UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine and Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science will work with five other institutes to create and test cloud-based tools for integrating and analyzing data about protein markers linked to cardiovascular disease.

Featuring researchers from the U.K.'s European Bioinformatics Institute, The Scripps Research Institute, Scripps Health, the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Sage Bionetworks, the UCLA center's findings will help shape guidelines for future data integration and use, analysis of genomic data and management of data from electronic health records. To guard patient privacy, the researchers will process data analytical platforms under layers of security.

According to Ping, a long-term goal is to standardize data and integrate multiple approaches into a single computer program, enabling the user to push a single button for information instead of struggling with numerous fragmented methods.

"A healthy person's medical records may contain 10 pages, while a patient with a chronic disease may possess 150 pages of records," observed Ping. "Our center will develop computational tools to extract keywords and summarize the most critical medical information for physicians. We want to streamline digital access to patient files and allow clinicians to quickly grasp the most relevant details of each case."

Under the leadership of Dr. Karol Watson, a professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of the UCLA Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Health Program, the UCLA center will develop curriculum to train cardiology fellows and clinicians how to utilize Big Data. Experts expect Big Data to evolve into an integral component of future cardiac treatments.

"The goals outlined by this initiative dovetail with UCLA's mission to enhance understanding of Big Data tools to improve patient care," said Dr. A. Eugene Washington, vice chancellor for UCLA Health Sciences and dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Our leadership in forging global partnerships speaks to the strength of our commitment to provide the best possible environment for investigations in cutting-edge fields like Big Data science."

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Founded in 1951, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA employs more than 2,500 full-time faculty members, including recipients of the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize and National Medal of Science. Nearly 10,155 candidates apply each year for one of 175 spaces in the first-year class. Enrollment totals more than 860 students and almost 400 Ph.D. candidates. More than 1,400 residents and fellows pursue advanced training at UCLA and its affiliated hospitals, which include Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the best hospital in the western United States for 25 consecutive years and No. 5 in the nation.

The UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, established in 1945, offers 28 academic and professional degree programs and has an enrollment of more than 5,000 students. The school's distinguished faculty is leading research to address many of the critical challenges of the 21st century, including renewable energy, clean water, health care, wireless sensing and networking, and cyber-security. Ranked among the top 10 engineering schools at public universities nationwide, the school is home to 10 multimillion-dollar interdisciplinary research centers in wireless sensor systems, wireless health, nanoelectronics, nanomedicine, renewable energy, customized computing, the smart grid and the Internet, all funded by federal and private agencies and individual donors.

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