CIELO Accelerates the Speed of Health Research through Data Sharing

A new open science platform gives researchers access to infinite data and analytics tools.

Research teams are usually comprised of a handful of people. Having three, four or five authors on a study is pretty standard. But what if you could tap the tools, resources and brainpower of hundreds or even thousands of investigators? That’s the goal of the Collaborative Informatics Environment for Learning on Health Outcomes, or CIELO for short.

Under the direction of Philip R.O. Payne, PhD, FACMI, the Institute of Informatics at Washington University is developing CIELO in conjunction with the newly created National Center for Data to Health (CD2H), a facilitator of informatics research, and AcademyHealth, a nonprofit dedicated to the professional development of health researchers. CD2H is a Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program focused on fostering a collaborative informatics community, and CIELO is one of its first prototype projects.

Expected to launch in fall 2018, CIELO is an open science platform for health research. It enables health researchers, data scientists, policy analysts and citizen scientists to share software, tools and data to improve research efforts and outcomes.

“The ultimate goal of CIELO is to enable open science, whereby research teams can securely and reliably share data sets and the analytics tools used to understand such data, thus making community-level efforts cumulative rather than isolated or episodic,” Payne says. “We conceptualize CIELO as being an ‘app store’ for researchers, making the discovery, adoption and reuse of existing data sets and tools faster, easier and more transparent. This is intended to improve the speed, efficiency and impact of such research programs, building on lessons learned from other communities, such as the physical sciences.”

Enabling Knowledge Sharing

CIELO fills a void in the field of research as there is no other central repository for sharing knowledge. Current code repositories, content management systems and analogous tools provide some of the functionality CIELO offers, but they can be difficult to access as they’re often not well-aligned with the needs of non-technical end users.

“Right now, there aren’t currently any mechanisms to share resources across sites, so we have researchers who are creating tools or software for one-time use and then they are shelved or not widely shared,” says Beth H. Johnson, MPH, director of AcademyHealth. “With CIELO, we have the potential to change the culture of health research by enabling the sharing of knowledge in a new way, to decrease redundancy and optimize resources. Just think of how much more impact a project could have if the software and tools developed could be housed in a common place that’s accessible by the whole research community.”

CIELO’s intent is to simplify and streamline the sharing of data and analytics tools. Doing so will accelerate the rate at which research can be completed, because researchers won’t be reinventing the same wheel another team already spent months, or in some cases years, building.

Connecting Researchers Around the Country

Sharing tools and data is only part of CIELO’s functionality. The platform will also encourage collaboration through the site’s social component, allowing users to “follow” people and projects, and ask for and contribute ideas.

“The idea is to get people connected regardless of where they’re based in the U.S.,” says CIELO front-end developer Ricky Rodriguez. “Maybe where they’re located, there isn’t a particular study they’re interested in. But with CIELO, they can participate and make connections with people in their own field.”

That means projects will no longer be bound by location. CIELO makes it easier than ever to share ideas with other researchers around the city, the state and the country.

“CIELO is really about democratizing data and tools in biomedical research, overcoming current challenges that prevent community-wide work from being cumulative and producing collective benefit,” Payne says.

And that could mean identifying deadly viruses faster, getting new drugs to market quicker and validating new surgical techniques sooner.

Who Should Use CIELO?

CIELO is built with the health researcher in mind, and access is free.

“The primary audience for CIELO is health researchers who leverage or otherwise use multi-scale data sets — from molecules to patients to populations — who are focused on driving biological and/or clinical problems,” Payne says.

But as CEILO grows, so could its user base.

“As the repository of knowledge expands, there’s potential to engage all kinds of stakeholders, including policymakers who could connect with researchers in various areas relevant to them, and funders who would potentially be able to see the impact of their dollars in a new way,” Johnson says.

“With CIELO, we have the potential to change the culture of health research by enabling the sharing of knowledge in a new way, to decrease redundancy and optimize resources,” says Beth H. Johnson, MPH.