Google is First Partner in NIH’s STRIDES Effort to Speed Discovery in the Cloud

By John Russell

July 31, 2018

The National Institutes of Health, with the help of Google, last week launched STRIDES – Science and Technology Research Infrastructure for Discovery, Experimentation, and Sustainability – intended to “harness the power of commercial cloud computing and provide NIH biomedical researchers access to the most advanced, cost-effective computational infrastructure, tools and services available.”

As described by NIH, “The initial agreement with Google Cloud creates a cost-efficient framework for NIH researchers, as well as researchers at more than 2,500 academic institutions across the nation receiving NIH support, to make use of Google Cloud’s storage, computing, and machine learning technologies. In addition, the partnership will involve collaborations with NIH’s Data Commons Pilot — a group of innovative projects testing new tools and methods for working with and sharing data in the cloud — and enable the establishment of training programs for researchers at NIH-funded institutions on how to use Google Cloud Platform.”

For years NIH has recognized that big data and sophisticated computational resources are essential for driving modern biomedical research. There have been many efforts to enhance NIH HPC/cloud capabilities and put them to use, some quite targeted such as the Cancer Moonshot program tackling cancer. Recently, NIH has been working to tie its various efforts together and to leverage both big data sciences and cloud computing to maximize reach and effect in the researcher community.

The STRIDES initiative, announced last Tuesday is an important part of these efforts and follows release of NIH’s first-ever Data Science Strategic Plan in June.

“NIH is in a unique position to bring together academic and innovation industry partners to create a biomedical data ecosystem that maximizes the use of NIH-supported biomedical research data for the greatest benefit to human health,” said NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak in the official announcement. He also serves as NIH’s interim Associate Director for Data Science. “The STRIDES Initiative aims to maximize the number of researchers working to provide the greatest number of solutions to advancing health and reducing the burden of disease.”

Gregory Moore, vice president, healthcare, Google Cloud, noted, “The volume of data generated in biomedical research labs across the world is growing exponentially. Through our partnership with NIH, we are bringing the power of data and the cloud to the biomedical research community globally. Together, we are making it easier for scientists and physicians to access and garner insights from NIH-funded data sets with appropriate privacy protections, which will ultimately accelerate biomedical research progress toward finding treatments and cures for the most devastating diseases of our time.”

A central tenet of STRIDES, according to NIH, is that data made available through these partnerships will incorporate standards endorsed by the biomedical research community to make data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable (FAIR). “NIH’s initial efforts will focus on making NIH high-value data sets more accessible through the cloud, leveraging partnerships to take advantage of data-related innovations such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, and experimenting with new ways to optimize technology-intensive research,” according to the announcement.

Precise details of how the program will work weren’t spelled out and it can sometimes be difficult to sort out how NIH’s various initiatives interact. The newly-released Data Science Strategic Plan should help provide practical guidance and rationale for the biomedical research community at least with regard to data science. Here’s a brief excerpt from the plan summarizing its scope:

“NIH’s strategic approach will move toward a common architecture, infrastructure, and set of tools upon which individual Institutes and Centers (ICs) and scientific communities will build and tailor for specific needs. A Software as a Service (SaaS) framework, in which software licensing and delivery are provided and hosted by centralized resources, will greatly facilitate access to, analysis and curation of, and sharing of all NIH-funded data.

“Details of these Implementation Tactics will be determined by the NIH Chief Data Strategist in collaboration with working groups established by the NIH Scientific Data Council and NIH Data Science Policy Council, in consultation with the ICs, other federal and international agencies, the research community, the private sector, and other key stakeholder groups. Evaluation is a critical component of stewardship of federal resources, and NIH will also develop performance measures and specific milestones that will be used to gauge the progress of this strategic plan and guide any necessary course corrections.”

It looks like the Data Commons project may be where the rubber hits the road first. The Data Commons effort, which is part NIH’s New Models of Data Stewardship  program, is currently in a pilot phase implementation. NIH says the pilot, “will inform the development of best practices, guidelines and standards, and cohesive approaches to Data Commons architecture and principles. The adoption of such standards and guidelines by all NIH Commons-like efforts will result in an interoperable NIH Data Commons consistent with the NIH Strategic Plan for Data Science.”

Link to NIH release: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-makes-strides-accelerate-discoveries-cloud

Link to NIH Data Science Strategic Plan: https://datascience.nih.gov/sites/default/files/NIH_Strategic_Plan_for_Data_Science_Final_508.pdf

Link to NIH Data Commons project: https://commonfund.nih.gov/commons

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