Case Western Reserve Researcher Awarded Neuroscience “Big Data” Grant

A Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine researcher has received a three-year “big data” grant from the National Science Foundation that will help researchers more effectively gather, use, and share neuroscience-related data, ultimately leading to better treatments.

Sharing and using such data is often challenging because neuroscience research, which is data-intense, involves collaboration from the fields of neuroscience, computer science, engineering, physics, psychology, statistics, and applied mathematics, with researchers employing many different data types and models.

Satya Sahoo, PhD, assistant professor of medical informatics in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, will team with colleagues at Case Western Reserve and other institutions on using technology to obtain, study, and share large amounts of clinical, cognitive, demographic, genetic, and phenotypic (observable characteristics) data from research on neurologically-related diseases, conditions, and impairments.

“We are extremely grateful to the National Science Foundation for this award,” said Sahoo. “It will enable us to make use of new technologies and applications to dramatically revise old ways of doing business.”

Under the project, funded through the National Science Foundation Big Data Innovation Hubs initiative, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, and Indiana University in the Midwest, as well as other institutions nationally, will also receive funding.

Sahoo and Case Western colleagues including Samden Lhatoo, MD, director of the Epilepsy Center, Martha Sajatovic, MD, director of the Neurological and Behavioral Outcomes Research Center, and Curtis Tatsuoka, PhD, director of biostatistics at the Neurological Institute, will generate several products under the grant. First, an advanced computational neuroscience network comprising several data bases will allow researchers from Case Western Reserve and the other three Midwest universities to gain access to, share, and collaborate on brain imaging data and EEG data. “This will be a real asset in allowing scientists to scale up their research,” said Sahoo. “For example, if researchers are interested in analyzing brain diseases of Hispanic patients between the ages of 20 and 40, they might have difficulty finding enough images at one of the four schools to develop a statistically robust study. The linked network that we create will address this problem by aggregating all of the relevant images from the four universities with shared data standards, ultimately creating a large enough sample size to do the research properly.”

Second, Sahoo and colleagues will develop new software applications to carry out processing and analysis of big data to better understand numerous functions within the brain, such as the origin and propagation of epilepsy seizures. Once the investigators pilot and refine these algorithms, they will make them available to other researchers nationally. Third, they will identify best practices for ensuring good data quality, such as technical parameters and instrument settings which generate reproducible results.

Finally, they will develop common data and terminological standards to enable easier sharing and aggregation of neuroscience data as well as replication of research on an “apples to apples” basis. “This is critically important,” said Sahoo, “since the lack of common terminological standards limits data sharing and interoperability, impeding progress and scientific discovery.” Agreeing on common standards will entail building consensus among 20 brain imaging centers in the Midwest, eight intracranial brain recording sites, and hundreds of researchers from multiple disciplines. “We are pleased to also have partnership commitments from industry associates such as MRI manufacturers and journals that publish neuroscientific research,” added Sahoo.

Under NSF grants 1636840, 1636846, 1636893, and 1636850, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, and Indiana University will receive a total of $1 million over a three-year period.


For more information about Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, please visit the School of Medicine's website.

Founded in 1843, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is the largest medical research institution in Ohio and is among the nation's top medical schools for research funding from the National Institutes of Health. The School of Medicine is recognized throughout the international medical community for outstanding achievements in teaching. The School's innovative and pioneering Western Reserve2 curriculum interweaves four themes--research and scholarship, clinical mastery, leadership, and civic professionalism--to prepare students for the practice of evidence-based medicine in the rapidly changing health care environment of the 21st century. Nine Nobel Laureates have been affiliated with the School of Medicine.

Annually, the School of Medicine trains more than 800 MD and MD/PhD students and ranks in the top 25 among U.S. research-oriented medical schools as designated by U.S. News & World Report's "Guide to Graduate Education."

The School of Medicine is affiliated with University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, MetroHealth Medical Center, the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the Cleveland Clinic, with which it established the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University in 2002.

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