Science + Technology

UCLA receives $11 million grant to lead NIH Center of Excellence for Big Data Computing

Scientists will harness ‘gold mines’ of digital data for biomedical research

Peipei Ping

Peipei Ping

The National Institutes of Health has awarded UCLA $11 million to form a Center of Excellence for Big Data Computing. The UCLA center will develop new strategies for mining and understanding the mind-boggling surge in complex biomedical data sets known as “big data.” 

The grant to UCLA was part of an initial $32 million outlay for the NIH’s $656 million Big Data to Knowledge, or BD2K, initiative. 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 in medicine. Investigators also will train the next generation of experts and develop data science approaches for use by scientists.

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

A key focus for the UCLA center will be creating and testing cloud-based tools for integrating and analyzing data about protein markers linked to cardiovascular disease. Faculty from the Geffen School and UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science will work with five other institutes — the European Bioinformatics Institute, the Scripps Research Institute, the Scripps Translational Science Institute, the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Sage Bionetworks. 

The center’s findings will help shape guidelines for future data integration and analysis, and the management of data from electronic health records. To guard patient privacy, data will be protected by multiple layers of security.

According to Ping, one of the center’s long-term goals is to standardize patient data so that a health care provider, for example, could press a single button to retrieve all of a person’s medical records instead of struggling to collect and review fragmented data from numerous sources. 

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

Under the leadership of Dr. Karol Watson, a professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at the Geffen School and director of the UCLA Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Health Program, the UCLA center also will develop curriculum to train cardiology fellows and specialists how to utilize big data. Cardiac care is one of many specialties expected to benefit from the development of new analytic tools for big data. 

“The goals of 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 Geffen School. “Our leadership in forging partnerships speaks to the strength of our commitment to provide the best possible environment for investigations in cutting-edge fields like big data science.”

Media Contact