|NIH Provides $24 Million to Support Research Network
Funding Will Enable Refinement of Multi-Site Neuroimaging Tools
The National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a part of the National Institutes
of Health (NIH), announced today it will provide $24.29 million over five years
to the University of California, Irvine (UCI) for continued support to the Biomedical
Informatics Research Network (BIRN). Currently a consortium of 28 universities
and 37 research groups, BIRN is leveraging and sharing distributed tools, software
applications, techniques, data, and expertise that extend beyond the boundaries
of individual laboratories. This major NCRR initiative, involving both basic
and clinical investigators, is initially concentrating on research involving
neuroimaging, but the tools and technologies developed will ultimately be applicable
to other disciplines.
UCI is leading the part of the project known as Function BIRN that brings together
researchers at 14 institutions for the common purpose of developing and testing
interdisciplinary techniques for integrating efforts in functional Magnetic Resonance
Imaging (fMRI) across multiple sites. The award will allow the Function BIRN
team to improve calibration of imaging equipment across sites, develop robust
protocols for cognitive assessment, formulate methods for analysis of resulting
data, and develop a scalable technology toolkit to support such complex studies.
A test project will interpret fMRI datasets from more than 200 subjects scanned
at facilities across the country.
“Through this effort, we are creating new models for collaboration among researchers
who study diseases at multiple sites with different equipment,” said Elaine Collier,
M.D., Assistant Director of NCRR’s Division of Clinical Research. “Function BIRN’s
utilization of emerging technology for collaborative research and sharing of
knowledge gained will accelerate scientific discoveries by allowing researchers
to tackle complex questions and large-scale research projects that were not previously
In its initial phase, the Function BIRN focused on developing a shared data
storage infrastructure and standard imaging methods for the multiple sites. The
project entailed a set of five research participants who traveled to nine sites
around the country for brain scans using a common protocol. This formed the first
calibration dataset of its kind in the world for systematically studying intersite
variability. Software tools were developed to reduce such variability, to automatically
correct image distortions, and to manage data for large and diverse neuroimaging
research projects. The open-source data and tools are available at www.nbirn.net/Resources/Downloads/.
Function BIRN’s director is Steven G. Potkin, M.D., a professor of psychiatry
and the Robert R. Sprague Director of Brain Imaging at UCI.
“One of our most significant accomplishments is that — through Function BIRN — we
have begun to create the sociology and culture for data sharing among researchers,” Potkin
said. “By working together with top researchers at many sites, we can simultaneously
test a variety of approaches to a problem and compare results, which has greatly
accelerated the progress we are able to make.”
Another goal of Function BIRN is to encourage the research community to make
use of the tools, data, and lessons learned. Collaborations have already begun
with other NIH-supported organizations such as the Neuroimaging Informatics Technology
Initiative, the Treatment Unit on Research for Neurocognition in Schizophrenia,
and NCRR-funded General Clinical Research Centers located around the country.
In addition to Function BIRN, the overall BIRN initiative comprises three other
components. They include the BIRN Coordinating Center, the primary software development
and computational hub; Morphometry BIRN, which is investigating whether structural
differences in the brain correlate to symptoms of neuropsychiatric illnesses;
and Mouse BIRN, which is studying animal models of diseases such as multiple
sclerosis, schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, and brain cancer.
With the infrastructure in place and the lessons learned from the neurology
projects, NCRR plans to expand BIRN to support other types of large-scale, collaborative
investigations. BIRN is expected to eventually incorporate distributed computing
resources, mechanisms for the integration of interoperable software tools, and
linkage of data through the federation of databases.
For more information about BIRN, visit www.ncrr.nih.gov/biotech/btbirn.asp.
The National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) provides laboratory scientists
and clinical researchers with environments and tools that they can use to prevent,
detect, and treat a wide range of diseases. This support enables discoveries
that begin at the molecular and cellular level, move to animal-based studies,
and then are translated to patient-oriented clinical research, resulting in
cures and treatments for both common and rare diseases. NCRR connects researchers
with patients and communities across the nation to bring the power of shared
resources and research to improve human health. For more information, visit
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research
Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of
the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal
agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical
research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common
and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.