BIRN Continues to Pioneer Data Sharing and Collaboration in Biomedical Research

BIRN visualization
BIRN visualization

1.12.05 -- The Biomedical Informatics Research Network (BIRN, announced receipt of continuing support from NIH's National Center for Research Resources in the form of a $32.8M grant. BIRN is an NIH initiative promoting collaborations among biomedical scientists by developing cyberinfrastructure supporting data sharing and analysis.

Of the $32.8M, $18.8M over five years will go to the BIRN Coordinating Center (CC) at the UCSD School of Medicine. Massachusetts General Hospital, which coordinates the BIRN Brain Morphometry testbed, one of the three BIRN testbeds, will receive $14M over the next three years. The Brain Morphometry testbed comprises a consortium of nine research groups including Calit² participants from UCSD and UC Irvine.

BIRN is a prime example of what Calit² is calling a "living laboratory"-a project that designs, develops, and implements cutting-edge technologies for widespread use. It involves faculty from both Calit² divisions: UCSD and UCI.

"Our goal is to create a shared infrastructure for biomedical science that facilitates collaboration, controlled data sharing, and access to the most advanced information and computing resources in the U.S. and around the globe," said BIRN-CC director Mark Ellisman of UCSD.

Mark Ellisman (BIRN PI) and Maryann Martone
(Scientific Coordinator of BIRN, UCSD)

When it began in 2001, BIRN proposed nothing short of scientific revolution: It offered scientists long accustomed to secure control over the datasets they'd collected a reason to share them with others. The idea was to provide the means to assemble and integrate datasets collected by multiple groups using "standard issue" computer systems with sufficient power and storage at each site connected by the highest performance networking available. That infrastructure would then enable larger and more comprehensive studies

Steven Potkin
(UCI PI of Function BIRN)

BIRN's three testbeds focus on understanding human neurological disorders, such as schizophrenia, depression, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Tourette's Syndrome, and associated mouse models that provide insight into these diseases.

Infrastructure design and support is provided by the BIRN-CC, drawing on expertise from the U.S. National Science Foundation-supported Computer Science initiatives and the United Kingdom's e-Science program to develop middleware components for a flexible cyberinfrastructure that supports distributed research collaborations.

This new award will provide continued support to projects including a large-scale Morphometry BIRN study that uses high-performance computing resources to examine changes in brain structure of patients with depression. Morphometry BIRN also conducts several related projects, including Semi-Automated Shape Analysis, which compares the structure of the hippocampus between Alzheimer's patients and healthy controls. Changes in the hippocampus, the portion of the brain responsible for transferring information into memory, is believed to play a role in the development of Alzheimer's disease.

BIRN, along with similar projects in other domains, is starting to have wide impact on scientific research across disciplines. An ecology initiative, "Toward a Distributed Information System for Marine Biology and Limnology " led by Peter Arzberger of UCSD, is building on BIRN's advanced information technologies to promote collaborations worldwide among limnologists and marine biologists. This project in December announced a $1.76M grant from The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


Chaitan Baru (SDSC) and Peter Arzberger (UCSD)

Another project, called GEON ( led by Chaitanya Baru of SDSC, who is also a co-investigator in BIRN, is similarly serving the geoscience community. GEON is funded by the National Science Foundation.