Goal is to enable biomedical researchers to use big data to advance human health

By Matthew Chin

Professors Mani Srivastava and Tyson Condie of the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science are part of a new Center of Excellence for Mobile Sensor Data-to-Knowledge (MD2k) that will focus on big data computing in the biomedical sciences.

The MD2k, headquartered at the University of Memphis, was announced today (Oct. 9, 2014) by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Using sensors embedded in smartphones and wireless sensors worn by individuals, computer scientists and biomedical researchers will monitor the health of patients, as they go about their everyday lives, and analyze complex dynamics, such as physical states or social situations and how they correlate to health and disease risk. This knowledge will help in the creation of more effective treatments and more personalized disease prevention techniques.

Srivastava, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, will lead one of the center’s thrust areas on software architectures for scalable sensor analytics in both cloud computing servers and on mobile devices. Condie, an assistant professor of computer science who has worked on large-scale machine learning, is also an investigator.

The researchers will first look at how to digest and analyze the incoming data from mobile devices and sensors, and then will improve the design of sensor data analysis systems to help doctors better diagnose health conditions and provide timely interventions to patients.

Due to the large volume of data from patients in the center’s medical studies — perhaps in petabytes (1 million gigabytes) per year — and a wide variety of types of data, Srivastava said, “We need software that can handle this metaphorical firehose of information and organize it in a way that’s accessible for biomedical researchers who develop models. Then the challenge is to build effective algorithms that can deliver the information doctors are looking for.“

The researchers will also seek to anonymize and sanitize the data to address privacy concerns.

The director of the MD2K is Santosh Kumar, a professor of computer science at the University of Memphis, who leads the team of investigators from 12 institutions. The MD2K is part of the NIH is part of the Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative, designed to support advances in research, policy and training that are needed for the effective use of big data in biomedical research. As part of this initiative, NIH has funded 12 National Centers of Excellence, each representing a multi-investigator, interdisciplinary team working to develop innovative approaches to address a major challenge to the effective use of big data. Together, these centers form a national infrastructure to develop and deploy cutting-edge approaches, methods, software, tools and other resources that will enable biomedical researchers to use big data to advance human health.

The NIH also announced today an award of $11 million to UCLA to establish a Center of Excellence  for Big Data Computing under the leadership of professor of medicine Peipei Ping at the David Geffen School of Medicine. UCLA Engineering researchers will be engaged in that project as well.