By: Elizabeth Kittrie, Senior Advisor for Data Science, National Institutes of Health
In the spirit of open science – a movement to make data and other information from scientific research available to everyone — the National Institutes of Health invites you to cast your vote and help us decide which of the projects competing for the Open Science Prize are the most innovative and most likely to have the greatest impact. Your vote plays a critical role in determining the three finalists for the ultimate selection of a grand prize winner of $230,000.00
In this competition, six finalist teams, composed of at least one U.S.-based and one international researcher, are using open data to improve human health. Open data refers to publicly-accessible data that is available for re-use by anyone. The US Department of Health and Human Services, the parent agency to NIH, is one of many government agencies around the world that has made health care data publicly available. You can find over three thousand health data sets publicly available via the healthdata.gov portal.
While science is truly a global endeavor, often involving teams of scientists at institutions in different nations, funding for scientific research is typically tied to the country of origin. To overcome this, the National Institutes of Health and the UK-based Wellcome Trust, with additional funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, have jointly created the Open Science Prize, an innovative effort showing how funding agencies can collaborate internationally.
Through a requirement that each team include at least one US and one international member, the prize aims to forge new collaborations between open science innovators from across the world, benefiting the global research community and the public. The prize was announced in 2015, and the six current finalists have been chosen from among 96 submissions from 45 countries around the globe.
Here’s a bit of background on each of the six finalist projects (listed in no particular order).
The OpenTrialsFDA app makes clinical trials data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) easier to find by making the contents of the drug approval packages publicly
available. These review packages often contain information on clinical trials that have never been published in academic journals. OpenTrialsFDA allows users to see the raw results of a study, such as unpublished data or data that seem more significant than they really are, in a way that is much more user-friendly and easier to navigate than the Drugs@FDA database of publicly available documents.
Understanding human brain function and disease is arguably the biggest challenge in neuroscience. To help address this challenge, researchers turn to smaller but sufficiently complex brains from other organisms. The Fruit Fly Brain Observatory allows data from fruit fly brain scans to be used as models for investigating human neurological and psychological disorders. The Fruit Fly Brain Observatory also has integrated healthy and diseased models of the human brain for study. Using computational disease models, researchers can make targeted modifications that are difficult to perform in vivo with current genetic techniques. The platform is modular, so it will be extendable to mice, zebrafish, and other experimental animals. These capabilities have the potential to significantly accelerate the development of powerful new ways to predict the effects of pharmaceuticals upon neural circuit functions.
Approximately 350 million people worldwide and over 30 million Americans have a rare disease. Most of these rare diseases are so-called Mendelian conditions, which means that mutation(s) in a single gene can cause disease. Examples of such diseases are include sickle-cell anemia, Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis and xeroderma pigmentosa. Over 7,000 Mendelian conditions have been described, but to date, scientists have only linked half of those conditions to a specific gene. Consequently, close to 70 percent of families who undergo clinical testing lack a diagnosis. MyGene2 is a website that makes it easy and free for families with Mendelian conditions to share health and genetic information with other families, clinicians and researchers worldwide in order to make a match.
There is a massive volume of brain imaging data available on the internet, capturing different types of information such as brain anatomy, connectivity and function. This data represents an incredible effort of funding, data collection, processing and the goodwill of thousands of participants. The development of a web-based application called BrainBox enables distributed collaboration around annotation, discovery and analysis of publicly available brain imaging data, generating insight on critical societal challenges such as mental disorders, but also on the structure of our cognition. Collaborators can send information, make comments, and highlight particular locations on the images, and access can be restricted to allow collaborators to view the images without modifying them – using a functionality similar to Google Docs.
Poor air quality is responsible for one out of eight deaths across the world, but the most polluted places in the world are not well-researched, hindering scientific progress. Accessible and timely air quality data is critical to advancing the scientific fight against air pollution and is essential for health research. The OpenAQ platform collects data every 10 minutes and allows users to view stored data and compare locations. To date, the OpenAQ community has collected 32,929,735 air quality measurements from 4,569 locations in 41 countries. Data are aggregated from 55 government level and research-grade sources.
The Nextstrain project is an app for tracking pathogen evolution in real time, critical in this era of high mobility. Contact tracing is the main way to fight a virus without a vaccine; sequencing the genomes of viruses such as Ebola can determine the shared mutations and phylogeny of each strain, allowing field epidemiologists a more nuanced way to trace contact. To facilitate treatment of active outbreaks of pathogens such as Zika, Nextstrain is able to show molecular epidemiology within days. It also is intended to be scalable and easy to interpret for teams on the ground. The project uses an online visualization platform where the outputs of statistical analyses can be used by public health officials for epidemiological insights within days of samples being taken from patients.
You can play a part in shaping the future of biomedical research by going to www.OpenSciencePrize.org, reviewing the projects listed there, and voting for the three you would like to see advance to the final round of competition. Voting is open from December 1, 2016 until January 6, 2017 at 11:59 p.m. PST.
The 3 prototypes receiving the highest number of public votes will advance to a final round of review by a panel of science experts and judges from the National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust A single, grand prize winning team will receive an award of $230,000 jointly funded by the collaborators will be announced in March 2017.