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Open Science Prize announces nextstrain.org as Grand Prize Winner

February 28, 2017

Congratulations to the nextstrain.org development team led by Trevor Bedford, PhD, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, and Richard Neher, PhD, of Biozentrum at the University of Basel, Switzerland winners of the grand prize of $230,000. Also participating were students from the laboratories of the team leaders; the University of Washington, Seattle; and the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

Read the official NIH press release.

A prototype online platform that uses real-time visualization and viral genome data to track the spread of global pathogens such as Zika and Ebola is the grand prize winner of the Open Science Prize. The international team competition is an initiative by the National Institutes of Health, in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). The winning team, Real-time Evolutionary Tracking for Pathogen Surveillance and Epidemiological Investigation, created its nextstrain.org prototype to pool data from researchers across the globe, perform rapid phylogenetic analysis, and post the results on the platform’s website.

Genome sequences of viral pathogens provide a hugely valuable insight into the spread of an epidemic, but to be useful, samples have to be collected, analyzed and the results disseminated in near real-time. The statistical analyses behind nextstrain.org can be conducted in minutes, and can reveal patterns of geographic spread, timings of introduction events, and can connect cases to aid contact tracing efforts. The phylogenetic analyses are posted on the website as interactive and easy to understand visualizations. They hope that the platform will be of great use to researchers, public health officials and the public who want a snapshot of an epidemic.

Nextstrain.org placed first out of three top finalists, selected from a pool of 96 multinational, interdisciplinary teams including 450 innovators from 45 countries. This award is the culmination of a year-long process which included development and demonstration of working prototypes and multiple stages of rigorous review by panels of expert Open Science advisors and judges from the Wellcome Trust and NIH. All stages of the competition emphasized open science in both form and process, including public input for the award gathered via a global public voting portal. During the public voting phase, which narrowed the six finalists to three top contenders, nearly 4,000 online votes were cast by members of the public from a total of 76 countries on all six inhabited continents.

The Open Science Prize is a global competition designed to foster innovative solutions in public health and biomedicine using open digital content. As increasing amounts of data are produced by scientists around the world and made openly available through publicly-accessible repositories, a major challenge to fully maximize this health information will be the lack of tools, platforms, and services that enable the sharing and synthesizing of disparate data sources. Development in this area is essential to turning diverse types of health data into usable and actionable knowledge.

The prize, which was launched in October 2015, aims to forge new international collaborations that bring together open science innovators to develop services and tools of benefit to the global research community. All six finalist teams were considered exemplary by the funders and are to be commended for their tenacity in developing creative approaches to applying publicly-accessible data to solve complex biomedical and public health challenges. The topics spanned the breadth of biomedical and public challenges, ranging from understanding the genetic basis of rare diseases, mapping the human brain, and enhancing the sharing of clinical trial information. As evidenced from the six Open Science Prize finalists, public health and biomedical solutions are enriched when data are combined from geographically diverse sources. Final prototypes developed by the six finalists can be accessed on the Open Science Prize website.


NLM Director Dr. Patricia Flatley Brennan Appointed NIH Interim Associate Director for Data Science

February 9, 2017

ON JANUARY 6, 2017, the National Institutes of Health announced that National Library of Medicine Director Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD will assume an additional role as NIH Interim Associate Director for Data Science.

The NIH Associate Director for Data Science (ADDS) and team provide input to the overall NIH vision and actions undertaken by each of the 27 Institutes and Centers in support of biomedical research as a digital enterprise. Among other duties, the office oversees the Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative, stimulating the best developments in the data science community.

This year will see the transition of trans-NIH data science initiatives to NLM, with the operational oversight of the BD2K initiatives being housed within the Common Fund programs in the Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives. This change builds on the recommendations by the NLM Working Group Report to the NIH Director, makes concrete steps towards the vision of NLM’s future proclaimed in the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director’s report—that the National Library of Medicine become the “epicenter of data science for the NIH.”

“I believe the future of health and health care rests on data—genomic data, environmental sensor-generated data, electronic health records data, patient-generated data, research collected data,” Dr. Brennan observed. “The data originating from research projects is becoming as important as the answers those research projects are providing.”

“NLM must play a key role in preserving data generated in the course of research, whether conducted by professional scientists or citizen scientists,” she continued. “We know how to purposefully create collections of information and organize them for viewing and use by the public. We can extend this skill set to the curation of research data. We also have the utilities in place to protect the data by making sure only those individuals with permission to access data can actually do so.”

“NLM is well positioned to add these new functions to its research portfolio,” the NLM Director observed. “In this new year and the years to follow, we welcome these exciting opportunities and challenges.”  


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