The Health and Human Services IDEA Lab celebrated employee innovation and problem-solving at its eighth annual awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., recently. HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell presented HHS Innovates Awards to seven teams, including two from NIH.
The first is NIH’s Neuroimaging Informatics Tools and Resources Clearinghouse (NITRC). NITRC was credited with providing the “Biggest Bang for the Buck” in the competition, which drew 70 entries from across the department.
NITRC is a clearinghouse for data, software tools and other resources for researchers conducting functional and structural neuroimaging analysis. Researchers and the medical community use functional neuroimaging—such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalography—to measure aspects of brain function, including links between brain regions and specific mental processes or physical activities. They use structural neuroimaging—such as computerized axial tomography (CAT or CT) and MRI—to explore physical elements of the brain.
“A remarkable evolution in the development of neuroimaging tools and knowledge has taken place over the past half century,” said Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, which administers the NITRC project. “NITRC plays a very important role in cultivating a community of neuroimaging experts to advance our ability to visualize, study and understand intricate structures and circuits of the brain.”
At the award ceremony are (from l) former NITRC project management leaders Michael Huerta, NLM, and James Luo, NHLBI; current NITRC project management leader Dr. Vinay Pai, NIBIB; HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell; NITRC project manager Nina Preuss, TCG; David Cassidy, TCG vice president; and Dr. James Anderson, NIH deputy director for program coordination, planning and strategic initiatives.
The NITRC web site, managed by a small business known as TCG, hosts a registry of neuroimaging tools and resources, an image repository for storing and sharing neuroimaging data and a computational environment that includes access to cloud computing. Among the hundreds of tools NIH offers through NITRC is a software package for reconstructing three-dimensional models of brain structures. Almost all of the software resources on NITRC are free, and all the data is free, fostering the exchange of ideas among users from U.S. universities, international organizations and virtual computing consortiums.
NITRC is funded by the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, a trans-NIH effort to accelerate the pace of discovery in neuroscience. The information technology firm TCG, which has developed and managed NITRC in collaboration with NIH since it first came online in 2006, estimates that the clearinghouse has provided more than $35.3 million in potential savings by researchers accessing imaging data through NITRC.
The second NIH winner was the NIH 3D Print Exchange, also deemed a “Secretary’s Pick.” The exchange is an online portal to open-source data and tools for discovering, creating and sharing 3D-printable models related to biomedical science. Its goal is to empower researchers, physicians and the public with high-quality, informative models that inspire new discoveries that transform science and health care.
Less than 10 months from its public launch, the exchange has grown to include more than 2,000 registered users and more than 5,000 3D models. As the first federal government web site dedicated to 3D printing, it is engaging with other agencies to facilitate sharing of digital 3D data. The entire site is built on an open source platform, making it fully scalable and transferable.
3D printing is transforming medicine through enhanced surgical planning and affordable, custom prosthetics. In the laboratory, 3D prints are saving thousands in research funding through improved efficiency. Most importantly, 3D-printed models can reveal valuable insights into complex structures and concepts. By stimulating greater adoption of 3D printing in bioscience, the NIH 3D Print Exchange is inspiring new innovation and discoveries that can ultimately advance scientific understanding and patient care.