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GCN : October 2015
22 GCN OCTOBER 2015 • GCN.COM On battlefields across the Middle East and football fields in the United States, traumatic brain injury (TBI) has hit near-epidemic propor- tions in the past several years. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it leads to 52,000 deaths and 275,000 hospitalizations in the U.S . each year. The spiraling caseload is pushing biomedical re- searchers to stretch their increasingly tight budgets and maximize their research to help prevent TBI and other serious health threats. The National Institutes of Health has developed a set of software modules that researchers say are meeting both goals. The Biomedical Research Informatics Computing System (BRICS) gives scientists from different fields of research access to a common set of data management tools they can use to share results and discoveries more easily and frequently. BRICS is a “set of tools that can be eas- ily combined to help advance research by using informatics,” said Matthew McAu- liffe, chief of NIH’s Biomedical Imaging Research Services Section. In the past, researchers captured information in a variety of ways, which made it nearly impossible to compare datasets, he added. BRICS standard- izes data definitions and records data consistently across all studies. “The thing that’s really exciting now is that data can have a longer life, [which] means that research is going to be shared more quickly as opposed to what often happened — data would be in somebody’s lab and then be lost,” McAuliffe said. Work on BRICS began when the Army’s Medical Research and Materiel Command approached NIH for help in developing a research database for TBI. “We said, ‘OK, let’s take a step back. Let’s build a modular system that we can use for TBI, NIH-BUILT TOOLSET HELPS RESEARCHERS SHARE AND COMPARE DATA BRICS offers biomedical researchers a modular, generic and rapidly deployable system for global collaboration AT A GLANCE PROJECT: Biomedical Research Informatics Computing System ORGANIZATION: National Institutes of Health Standardized data definitions and a modular toolset make it easier for researchers to combine and search data. As a result, productivity surged. “We ran the system in parallel for one week and had 916 additional hits that we wouldn’t have hit before,” he said. Later that year, FBI officials intro- duced a mobile fingerprint-matching device that gave law enforcement officers access to a data repository on criminals described as the worst of the worst, including sex offenders and suspected terrorists. “If a cop on the street makes a traf- fic stop and they have this device, they take one [fingerprint] from that person, scan it, beam it back to us, and within 5 seconds, we’ll give it a red light or a green light,” Preaskorn said. The tool’s effectiveness has earned it a powerful reputation. Preaskorn said he has heard reports of suspects who have tried to chew or burn off their fingerprints when they saw the device in a police car. The NGI team also launched a national Rap Back service that notifies agencies immediately when people who have already passed background checks become involved in criminal activities. The service is especially focused on people who work in fields with vulnerable populations, such as education and health care. In addition, NGI offers facial recogni- tion via the Interstate Photo System, which automates a process that used to involve a victim paging through a book of mugshots. “If somebody holds up a 7-11, the police department can pull a still pic- ture from the video of that suspect and submit it against our repository,” Preas- korn said. The system does not return a one-to-one match but shows officers a range of probable matching images. Looking ahead, FBI officials want to build a repository for criminals’ iris images but are still evaluating the tech- nology options. NGI was designed to accommodate such updates. From the beginning, de- velopers embarked on an incremental approach that would offer interoper- ability across commercial devices and build on service-oriented architectures. “When we built IAFIS, it was de- signed for a certain workload...under a pretty rigid infrastructure,” Preaskorn said. “NGI is designed so you can plug in new modalities as you need to. This was a $1.12 billion system, the biggest the bureau has ever done. We wanted to take it in small chunks. You don’t eat the elephant in one bite. And that’s why we came up with an incremental strategy.” — Paul McCloskey 1015gcn_020-038.indd 22 10/5/15 10:40 AM
January and February 2016