Funding will help researchers gather and share data, leading to better treatments

A Midwest Big Data consortium including Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine researcher Satya Sahoo has won more than $1 million in federal funding to advance neuroscience research.

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.

The National Science Foundation grants will enable Sahoo, assistant professor of medical informatics in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, to 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.”

Satya Sahoo

Members of the Midwest Advanced Computational Neuroscience Network (ACNN), including the University of Michigan, Ohio State University and Indiana University, are collaborating as part of the NSF’s nationwide effort focused on advancing research applications of big data technologies.

Sahoo and Case Western Reserve colleagues—including Samden Lhatoo, professor of neurology at the School of Medicine and director of the Epilepsy Center at University Hospitals; Martha Sajatovic, professor of psychiatry at the medical school and director of the University Hospitals Neurological and Behavioral Outcomes Research Center; and Curtis Tatsuoka, associate professor of neurology and director of biostatistics at the University Hospitals Neurological Institute—will generate several products under the grant.

First, an advanced computational neuroscience network comprising several databases 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.