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Emory will partner with new Regional Big Data Hub led by Georgia Tech, UNC

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Holly Korschun

Emory University will be a health care research partner in the South Big Data Regional Innovation Hub (South BD Hub) directed by Georgia Tech and the University of North Carolina's Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI). The South BD Hub will serve 16 Southern states and the District of Columbia.

The South BD Hub is part of the National Science Foundation's four Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs announced today. The new initiative aims to build innovative public-private partnerships that address regional challenges through big data analysis.

Each of the NSF BD Hubs will engage businesses and research organizations in their region to develop common big data goals that would be impossible for individual members to achieve alone. The Hubs will develop community-driven governance structures as well as "spoke projects" based on regional priorities and partnerships.

Srinivas Aluru, professor in the Georgia Tech School of Computational Science and Engineering, and Ashok Krishnamurthy, Deputy Director at RENCI are co-principal investigators of South BD Hub. Michael Zwick, PhD, assistant vice president for research in Emory's Woodruff Health Sciences Center and assistant dean of research in Emory's School of Medicine, will represent Emory on the South BD Hub Steering Committee.

Initial spokes of the South BD Hub will aim to apply big data analysis to scientific and social issues in five areas:

  • Health Care, including disparities in health, access to health care, and health outcomes, precision medicine, and health analytics.
  • Coastal Hazards, including understanding and mitigating the consequences of natural and manmade disasters.
  • Industrial Big Data, including cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, data-driven management of physical infrastructure, and power generation, transmission, and distribution from a variety of sources.
  • Materials and Manufacturing, including data-driven contributions to the materials genome initiative and bridging the gap between materials science and manufacturing practice.
  • Habitat Planning, including urban infrastructure, smart cities efforts, transportation, rural-urban infrastructure, and wildlife habitat and conservation. 

A number of existing Big Data projects at Emory, within four broad teams, are expected to collaborate with the South BD Hub. All are research partners within the NIH-supported Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute (ACTSI), which includes Emory, Georgia Tech and Morehouse School of Medicine.

"Emory and the ACTSI strongly support the development and application of computing technologies to harness 'Big Data' in our research and health care enterprises," says David Stephens, MD, vice president for research in Emory's Woodruff Health Sciences Center and principal investigator of ACTSI. "

"As the capacity of our research platforms increases, investigators using the high-throughput technologies available in the Emory Integrated Core Facilities increasingly find that computational services have become the rate limiting factor," says Michael Zwick. "The innovative technologies proposed for the South BD Hub should further enhance ongoing research collaborations, lead to major advances in biology and biomedical research, and improve access and efficiency of health care delivery to our communities in the Southeast."

  • Stephen Warren, PhD, chair of the Department of Human Genetics and colleagues are generating genome sequencing data and applying high throughput technologies to identify risk factors and modifiers of risk for schizophrenia, and are identifying genetic variants modifying FMR1gene-associated disorders including epilepsy, premature ovarian failure, and Fragile-X associated tremor/ataxia syndrome.
  • Allan Levey, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Neurology and director of the Emory Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and colleagues are assessing proteomics related to normal aging, mild cognitive impairment, or Alzheimer's disease in several NIH-sponsored studies. With foundation support, Levey is initiating a large research data-driven study with the goal of developing mid-life biomarkers predictive of Alzheimer's disease.
  • Daniel Brat, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics, is investigating biomarkers of human gliomas in an In Silico Center for Brain Tumor Research, using large data sets such as the Cancer Genome Atlas. Brat is director of the Cancer Tissue and Pathology Shared Resource at Winship Cancer Institute. In a recent large national study led by Brat that included 44 institutions, researchers found that molecular diagnostics can be much more precise and consistent in the diagnosis and prognosis of brain tumors than traditional microscopic classification.
  • Andrew Post, MD, PhD, associate professor of biomedical informatics and interim director of the ACTSI's Biomedical Informatics Programs, is leading efforts to create coordinated access to and management of clinical data across Emory University and multiple medical centers in the Atlanta area and across the Southeast. A major component of the program is the i2b2 clinical data warehousing system at Emory and Morehouse School of Medicine. Post also leads ACTSI's efforts in the NIH-supported Accrual to Clinical Trials network, including more than 21 academic medical centers.

Georgia Tech will host national data repositories and provide big data transfer capabilities through Southern Crossroads (SoX), a non-profit founded by Georgia Tech and partners and recognized as one the highest-bandwidth Internet gateways in the South—connecting 21 member institutions and universities.  Georgia Tech also is preparing to build a multi-story, 750,000-square-foot building in the heart of Atlanta devoted to data science and high-performance computing for centralized collaboration among industry, academia and government.

The South BD Hub team will put to use lessons learned in developing the National Consortium for Data Science, a public-private partnership to address big data issues launched by RENCI in 2013, as Georgia Tech and RENCI develop the Hub's governance structure and programs. In addition, RENCI will leverage its expertise in technology and software development to manage big data sharing within the South BD Hub and collaboration with other regional hubs.

"The BD Hubs program represents a unique approach to improving the impact of data science by establishing partnerships among like-minded stakeholders," says Jim Kurose, NSF's head of computer and information science and engineering. "In doing so, it enables teams of data science researchers to come together with domain experts, with cities and municipalities, and with anchor institutions to establish and grow collaborations that will accelerate progress in a wide range of science and education domains with the potential for great societal benefit."

Initial NSF funding for the South BD Hub will be $1.5 million over three years. In addition to the South BD Hub, the NSF has funded Hubs in the Northeast, Midwest, and Western U.S., which are managed by universities in those regions.

The SouthBD Hub will serve the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

For more information on the Big Data Regional Hubs Initiative, see the NSF news release.

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