Providing free access to data and pay-per-use access to unlimited computing power, the Neuroimaging Informatics Tools and Resources Clearinghouse (NITRC) at the National Institutes of Health enables worldwide scientific collaborations to flourish with minimal startup and long-term overhead costs. This innovative clearinghouse facilitates discovery neuroscience for researchers lacking the means for data collection and complex image analysis or wishing to replicate research to validate hypotheses.
With neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Traumatic Brain Injury, affecting the worldwide population, a global coordinated effort is required to rapidly understand these disorders, develop tools for early diagnosis, and test potential cures at an affordable cost to stretch HHS’ dollars further. Neuroinformatics – the intersection of neuroscience and information technology – can help achieve these goals.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Neuroimaging Informatics Clearinghouse (NITRC) provides one-stop-shopping for the neuroimaging researcher to use community-vetted tools and resources, download data and process it in the cloud. Researchers can easily document and even provide an exact replica of their workflow for others to reproduce for validation, reproducibility, or training purposes. Using NITRC’s Computational Environment—a fully scalable virtual machine —any researcher with an internet connection can do extensive research and inexpensively obtain pilot data. NITRC also developed a data commons (NITRC-IR), distributing a library of medical images and their metadata acquired on 6,180 patients. NITRC-IR enables free access to costly brain imaging data collected by the research community. This also makes the task of data collection and analysis less time-consuming. NIH reviewed 166 publications citing data downloaded from NITRC-IR. These publications used a total of 58,868 subjects’ data, obviating a need to collect new data—a potential cost avoidance of over $35.3 million.
NITRC is enabling worldwide scientific collaborations to flourish. As noted by a Belgian neuroscientist: “[I] needed a solution that would quickly and reliably conduct image processing for Parkinson’s research. [I] found the NITRC-CE … reducing time required to process neuroimaging data by 85%….allow[ing] me to complete a critical stage of my research in 2 days, instead of 2 weeks.” NITRC was developed to scale to support any biomedical/clinical images. These approaches in computing and data sharing are broadly applicable to a wide range of endeavors at HHS as well as other agencies, potentially yielding significant benefits.
The HHS Innovates Awards is one of the ways we are building an innovative culture at the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS Innovates is a contest that recognizes and rewards action taken on good ideas. To date, HHS employees have submitted nominations of innovations for over 600 exciting new staff-driven innovative projects, and our employees have cast over 60,000 votes to select 42 finalists over seven rounds. This project is one of the finalists of HHS Innovates. Learn more about HHS Innovates.