Andrea Norris, NIH, discussing the STRIDES initiative announced that day at Google Cloud Next ‘18. Photo credit: Alive Coverage.

In an earlier interview with FedHealthIT’s Executive Vice President, Susan Sharer, Andrea T. Norris, NIH Chief Information Officer and director of NIH’s Center for Information Technology, had spoken about many innovative initiatives and opportunities the Agency was exploring including “incorporating cloud services into our business models; partnerships with other agencies, commercial industry, and non-profits; and leveraging technology to support new ways of treating illness and conducting research.”

In July, as part of its plans to bolster research activities through the use of technology, NIH announced it had launched a “new initiative to harness the power of commercial cloud computing and provide NIH biomedical researchers access to the most advanced, cost-effective computational infrastructure, tools and services available.”

STRIDES

As NIH’s press announcement noted on July 24, “The Science and Technology Research Infrastructure for Discovery, Experimentation, and Sustainability (STRIDES) Initiative launched with Google Cloud as its first industry partner and aims to reduce economic and technological barriers to accessing and computing on large biomedical data sets to accelerate biomedical advances.”

Andrea Norris, NIH, and other panel participants speaking at Google Cloud Next ‘18. NIH announced the STRIDES initiative at this event. Photo credit: Alive Coverage.

In announcing the partnership, NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., who also serves as NIH’s interim Associate Director for Data Science, said: “NIH is in a unique position to bring together academic and innovation industry partners to create a biomedical data ecosystem that maximizes the use of NIH-supported biomedical research data for the greatest benefit to human health. The STRIDES Initiative aims to maximize the number of researchers working to provide the greatest number of solutions to advancing health and reducing the burden of disease.”

In line with NIH’s first-ever Data Science Strategic Plan released in June, STRIDES will establish “additional innovative partnerships to broaden access to services and tools, including training for researchers to learn about the latest cloud tools and technologies. Services are expected to become available to the NIH-supported community after a series of pilot activities to refine policies and test and assess implementation approaches.”

All of this is based on the STRIDES tenet that “data made available through these partnerships will incorporate standards endorsed by the biomedical research community to make data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable (FAIR).” NIH said its initial efforts will focus on “making NIH high-value data sets more accessible through the cloud, leveraging partnerships to take advantage of data-related innovations such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, and experimenting with new ways to optimize technology-intensive research.”

“By launching STRIDES, we clearly show our strong commitment to putting the most advanced cloud computing tools in the hands of scientists,” said Andrea T. Norris, NIH Chief Information Officer and director of NIH’s Center for Information Technology. “Beyond our partnership with Google Cloud, we will seek to add more industry partners to assure that NIH continues to be well poised to support the future of biomedical research.”

 

Diane Greene, CEO, Google Cloud. Photo credit: Alive Coverage.

The Opportunity

The initial agreement with Google Cloud creates a cost-efficient framework for NIH researchers, as well as researchers at more than 2,500 academic institutions across the nation receiving NIH support, to make use of Google Cloud’s storage, computing, and machine learning technologies. In addition, the partnership will involve collaborations with NIH’s Data Commons Pilot — a group of innovative projects testing new tools and methods for working with and sharing data in the cloud — and enable the establishment of training programs for researchers at NIH-funded institutions on how to use Google Cloud Platform.

“The volume of data generated in biomedical research labs across the world is growing exponentially,” said Gregory Moore, M.D., Ph.D., Vice President, Healthcare, Google Cloud. “Through our partnership with NIH, we are bringing the power of data and the cloud to the biomedical research community globally. Together, we are making it easier for scientists and physicians to access and garner insights from NIH-funded data sets with appropriate privacy protections, which will ultimately accelerate biomedical research progress toward finding treatments and cures for the most devastating diseases of our time.”

Partnerships are Key

The initial STRIDES announcement came with the news that Google Cloud was to be the Agency’s first industry partner and would address the aim of reducing “economic and technological barriers to accessing and computing on large biomedical data sets to accelerate biomedical advances.”

From NIH’s side, this would achieve the goal of making “NIH high-value data sets more accessible through the cloud, leveraging partnerships to take advantage of data-related innovations such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, and experimenting with new ways to optimize technology-intensive research.”

For its part, Google Cloud, in its announcement of the partnership, focused in part on the hurdles to biomedical research based on the volume of genomic, transcriptomic, metabolomic, phenotypic, and other data generated in research labs across the world continues to grow; the frustration of data sharing among researchers, especially given the enormous potential for positive impact; and the difficulty of aggregating data due to size and privacy concerns.

The announcement read: “As part of this agreement, we’ll make some of the most important NIH-funded datasets available to users with appropriate privacy controls. To simplify access to these datasets, we’ll integrate researcher authentication and authorization mechanisms with Google Cloud credentials. And we’re working with the Global Alliance for Genomics & Health and the BioCompute Consortium to support industry standards for data access, discovery, and cloud computation.”

The Future

The Google Cloud partnership is the first for the STRIDES program. NIH forecasted that “STRIDES is expected to mature as NIH works with the research community to develop policies and best practices around cloud infrastructure for biomedical research” and that partnerships, with a focus on “major commercial Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) to improve access to biomedical data and provide cost effective cloud infrastructure, data storage, compute, and machine learning services for NIH and NIH-supported investigators,” would still be evolving after initial pilot programs to refine policies and procedures were tested.

STRIDES Frequently Asked Questions:

https://commonfund.nih.gov/data/FAQ

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