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Director’s Corner

May 24, 2016: A Biomedical Data Revolution for Accelerating Translation

Christopher Austin

NCATS accelerates translational science through initiatives that push the boundaries of biomedical research to revolutionize the way we study diseases and discover treatments. I am very excited about a new such signature initiative: NCATS’ Biomedical Data Translator program, called Translator for short.

As I have previously discussed in this space, one of the roadblocks to translation is the siloed nature of biomedical research across diseases and disciplines, which impedes discovery of commonalities across diseases and the teamwork required for successful translation. The ultimate vision for Translator is an informatics platform enabling interrogation of relationships across the full spectrum of data types, from disease names, clinical signs and symptoms, to organ and cell pathology, genomics, and drug effects. Collaborative teams of innovators of unprecedented scope are being summoned to make this vision a reality in our Center’s recently released funding opportunity announcement (PDF - 134KB).

Currently, a tremendous amount of data — from biomedical research, disease classifications, health records, clinical trials and adverse event reports — is available and useful for understanding health and disease and for developing and identifying treatments for diseases. Unfortunately, these very rich data types are individually incomplete and exist in different locations and are often in different scientific languages that are not compatible or “translatable” to others. NCATS’ goal with Translator is to merge all this information together in order to provide new ways of understanding the basis of diseases and new approaches to treatment.

This approach will enable the bridging of the current symptom-based diagnosis of disease classification with research-based molecular and cellular characterizations that can be targeted by various preventative and therapeutic interventions. This multiyear, iterative effort will produce a publicly available, comprehensive, relational, N-dimensional Biomedical Data Translator that will be useful for researchers worldwide to facilitate their translational efforts.

For the first step of the program, as outlined in the FOA, NCATS is using its Other Transactions Authority (through the Cures Acceleration Network) to invite innovative proposals for addressing the architecture needs to build the Translator and to assess its technical feasibility.

Translator is an unprecedented effort to push beyond the “business-as-usual” incremental approach to translational science and bring about rapid, high-impact change that will get more treatments to more patients more quickly.

Christopher P. Austin, M.D.
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences