University of Memphis Gets ‘Big Data’ Grant

By Bill Dries

The University of Memphis is among a dozen universities in the nation sharing in $32 million in federal funding for research into how to analyze and use complex biomedical data, U.S. health officials announced Thursday, Oct. 9.

The University of Memphis is one of 12 “Centers of Excellence” sharing in $32 million in funding to research and develop better ways of using biomedical “big data” sets.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Scientists refer to the increase in such complex data as “big data” and the University of Memphis is one of a dozen “centers of excellence” in the deep dive into big data.

Officials of the National Institutes of Health in Washington announced that the university will become a Center of Excellence for Mobil Sensor Data-to-Knowledge with computer science professor Santosh Kumar as the lead scientist of the effort.

The research effort will focus on the use of the sensors in health care to predict risk factors for disease in advance of medical emergencies and relapses.

The two specific test cases involved in the research are reducing readmissions to hospitals for patients with congestive heart failure and preventing relapses among those who have quit smoking.

Philip E. Bourne, the National Institute’s associate director for data science, termed it a “digital ecosystem” for biomedical research.

“The future of biomedical research is about assimilating data across biological scales from molecules to populations,” Bourne said in a written statement. “As such, the health of each one of us is a big data problem. Ensuring that we are getting the most out of the research data that we fund is a high priority for NIH.”

University of Memphis president David Rudd has been talking in general terms for several months about the coming designation and how it is a milestone in the university’s quest to become more of a research institution.

The $32 million in federal funding among the dozen centers was awarded out of fiscal 2014 funds, though they may be spent in fiscal 2015.

The NIH plans to invest nearly $656 million among the centers through 2020, pending Congressional approval.

NIH director Francis S. Collins said the creation of data in biomedicine has exploded beyond what physicians and other health care professionals projected a decade ago.

The goal across all of the “big data” centers is to analyze and interpret that data in a more timely and meaningful fashion.

“These funds will help us overcome the obstacles to maximizing their utility,” Collins said. “The potential of these data, when used effectively, is quite astounding.”

In the case of each center of excellence, including the one led by Kumar through the University of Memphis, a scientific community-based approach will be used to develop an index of data discovery and to develop training as well as workforce development around the sensor devices – in the case of the area to be studied at the University of Memphis.