i2b2 and Why Should I Care?
Laboratory informatics can take on many guises.
While most users may only be familiar with it in regards to laboratory information management systems (LIMS) or chromatography data systems (CDS), its reach is considerably broader than that. An example of this, which has the potential for directly improving a great many lives in the future, goes under the somewhat innocuous acronym of i2b2.
Even expanded out to its full name of Informatics for Integrating Biology and the Bedside, the impact of its potential is unclear. In a thumbnail, the i2b2 Center, based at Partners HealthCare System in Boston, MA, is an NIH-funded National Center for Biomedical Computing project tasked with developing a scalable system to allow results from existing clinical tests to be used for research purposes. A critical aspect to being able to use actual clinical results for research purposes is to be able to anonymize the samples.
To ensure that development of the informatics system maintains its focus, the project uses a series of what they refer to as driving biology projects (DBP) to test the usefulness and flexibility of the system. These DBPs currently include:
- airways diseases
- type 2 diabetes mellitus
- Huntington’s disease
- major depressive disorder
- rheumatoid arthritis
These diseases were chosen for a variety of reasons, the first being their clinical significance. Beyond that, selection became somewhat more subjective, including such factors as the research track record of principal investigators and their willingness to work with computational researchers and engineers to enhance the system.
According to their Web site, “The most important challenge of i2b2 is to disseminate the computational tools, methodologies, biomedical data sets and educational materials widely within the biomedical and computational research communities.”1 As an aid to that, they provide access to download all of their informatics tools, including documentation on using them, on their Web site.
I highly recommend that anyone involved in clinical research view the complete i2b2 introductory video, which was produced by Estella M. Geraghty, MD, MS, MPH.
1. i2b2: Informatics for Integrating Biology & the Bedside. (2011) https://www.i2b2.org/resrcs/index.html
John R. Joyce, Ph.D. is a laboratory informatics specialist based in Richmond, VA. He may be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.