UNC-Chapel Hill and its Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), which launched in 2004, will lead part of a $9 million National Institutes of Health data project..

RENCI announced the grant on Tuesday.

RENCI and UNC-CH will receive $646,000 and several partners will share in $578,000 over the first phase of the project.

The NIH Data Commons project is designed to provide a “shared virtual space” for biomedical researchers than is secure, supports various applications and is easily utilized.

In all, NIH handed out $9 million in funding for the pilot phase. The program is expected to last through 2020.

“Harvesting the wealth of information in biomedical data will advance our understanding of human health and disease,” said NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., who is a graduate of UNC’s medical school. “However, poor data accessibility is a major barrier to translating data into understanding. The NIH Data Commons Pilot Phase is an important effort to remove that barrier.”

According th RENCI, the pilot phase will explore the feasibility and best practices for making digital objects available through collaborative platforms. The work will be done on public clouds, which are virtual spaces where service providers make resources, such as applications and storage, available over the internet. The Data Commons aims to make biomedical research data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable (FAIR) for more biomedical researchers.

Key capabilities for the project:

  • guidelines and metrics for making data findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable;
  • Global Unique Identifiers (GUIDs, which are numbers used to identify information in computer systems);
  • open standard application programming interfaces (APIs);
  • cloud agnostic architectures; workspaces for computation;
  • research ethics, privacy and security (including authentication and authorization);
  • indexing and searching;
  • use cases

“We live in a time when digital biomedical data are ubiquitous, but the challenge is extracting value from those data in ways that lead to scientific breakthroughs and innovations in healthcare delivery,” said Stan Ahalt, director of RENCI and lead principal investigator for the project. “The NIH Data Commons addresses all the key questions that need to be answered in order to make biomedical data easy to find, access, analyze, share, and reuse. RENCI has been dealing with these kinds of questions for several years in other projects and we look forward to applying and leveraging what we’ve learned in this major, nationwide effort.”