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NIH Aims to Fund Cancer Informatics Research Projects

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Cancer Institute this week announced that it intends to fund multiple research projects related to the development and management of informatics technologies for cancer research.

Among the specific technologies of interest to the agency are ones related to data acquisition and analysis, modeling and simulation, and those that can improve upon existing informatics tools and resources.

"Over the last decade, major advances in biology coupled with innovations in information technology have led to an explosive growth of biological and biomedical information," particularly as they relate to genomics, according to the NCI.

Such developments, however, have created "significant challenges to access data, analyze data, and ultimately transform discovery into new knowledge and clinical practice," the agency noted. "These challenges are even more prominent in the field of cancer research where complexity and heterogeneity of the disease translate to complex data generation conditions and high data management and analysis overhead," all of which can hinder knowledge discovery and dissemination.

Recent advances in informatics such as the use of cloud computing to support big data analysis, new computational methods for variant calling and driver mutation detection, and improved genomic alignment algorithms have benefited cancer research, the NIH added. Still, the use of informatics in everyday research remains limited, largely due to the lack of tools and related resources.

As such, the NCI said that it is expanding its Informatics Technology for Cancer Research program, which was established to support investigator-initiated informatics technology development, with four new funding opportunities.

The first two seek to further the development of new and user-friendly informatics technologies that improve the acquisition, management, analysis, and dissemination of data and knowledge across the cancer research continuum, the NCI said. This includes technologies applicable to cancer biology, cancer treatment and diagnosis, cancer prevention, cancer control and epidemiology, or cancer health disparities.

Examples of such informatics technologies include, but are not limited to, computer-assisted interpretation of experimental results, environments for interactive modeling and simulation, and improvements to software interoperability and compatibility.

Awards under the first funding opportunity are limited to $600,000 in direct costs per year and are reserved for advanced projects. The second funding opportunity is geared to early-stage projects, which are limited to $300,000 in direct costs each year.

The third funding opportunity is focused on projects improving the user experience and availability of existing, widely used informatics tools and resources that have demonstrated their impact on cancer research.

General examples of these support technologies include resources for data management and analysis, automated data collection, and for data compression, storage, organization, and transmission.

The NCI said that application budgets under this funding opportunity are not limited.

Lastly, the NCI said it will solicit grant applications around the development of innovative methods and algorithms in biomedical computing, informatics, and data science. The agency said it is placing particular emphasis on novelty and potential for impact.

It is interested in, among other things, methods to address semantic interoperability, patient-centric data coalescence, data-quality assessment, text mining and natural language processing, and the interpretation of experimental results.

Awards will be limited to $275,000 in direct costs over a two-year period and may not exceed $200,000 in any one year.