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AAMC Comments on Training Requirements for “Big Data”

March 22, 2013—The AAMC March 19 submitted comments  in response to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) request for information (RFI) on training future scientists in the use of vast data sets and new informatics tools, a.k.a. “big data.”  The NIH specifically sought information relating to the training dimensions of the Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative announced in December, following upon recommendations of a working group to the NIH director’s advisory committee [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 14, 2012].

In its comments, the AAMC notes medical schools continue to have difficulty recruiting trained and talented informaticians, at a time when new technologies and analytics have already created “seismic shifts” in commercial sectors.  The Association states that a “parallel situation can easily be found with [respect to] research data and health care delivery systems.”  To help focus NIH’s BD2K initiative, the AAMC recommends that NIH frame informatics training efforts around the end-uses of such large systems.

The letter cites for example recent research that used data from tens of thousands of electronic medical records across three large academic medical centers, combined with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) adverse events data, to identify a crucial side effect (elevated blood glucose) from two drugs used in combination, when neither manifested the same effect independently.  In light of such research, the AAMC notes that “analytical techniques developed for smaller, more traditional databases may not be sufficiently powerful or sophisticated if directly applied to new types of Big Data resources.”

Input for AAMC’s comments was collected from the leadership of the AAMC Group on Information Resources, Graduate Research, Education, and Training (GREAT), and Group on Research Advancement and Development (GRAND).  “The academic community has a special role,” the AAMC observes, “in advancing standards and necessary sophistication in analyses [of] such resources, and to minimize the potential for misuse of data, release of unwarranted conclusions, etc.“  On-line courses and the use of educational portals may be an effective way to promote such standards.

Under the BD2K initiative and other working group recommendations, NIH will conduct a broad inventory of existing databases related to biomedical research, and help stimulate development of analytic tools and other resources to make use of these data.  Information collected from the RFI will be used to help organize workshops to support the initiative.


Stephen Heinig
Director, Science Policy
Telephone: 202-828-0488


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