At Geisel: Creating Computational Tools to Advance Research

Read the full story, published Feb. 10 by the Geisel School of Medicine.


Amar Das leads the Division of Biomedical Informatics within Geisel’s Department of Biomedical Data Science. (Photo by Jon Gilbert Fox)

Many people may recognize biomedical informatics as the technology that was used in the Human Genome Project, which was launched in 1990. However, many might not realize the breadth of this interdisciplinary field that draws upon computer science, computer engineering, information science, and cognitive psychology—where scientists develop ways to store, retrieve, organize, and analyze biological and health data.

Rapid advances in clinical science and technology, and the proliferation of large amounts of data now available in the scientific and medical communities, have only increased the field’s importance within clinical and translational research. Today, the work of biomedical informatics teams can range from developing the digital infrastructure and tools needed to help investigators do their work to creating the tracking systems that measure and report on their progress to funding organizations.

The Geisel School of Medicine’s Williamson Translational Research Building on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H) campus is the arena of Amar Das, an associate professor of biomedical data science, psychiatry, and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

Das—who leads the Division of Biomedical Informatics within Geisel’s Department of Biomedical Data Science, directs the Biomedical Informatics Core within SYNERGY (The Dartmouth Clinical and Translational Science Institute), and heads up the Informatics Collaboratory for Design, Development, and Dissemination—discusses his division’s critical role within Dartmouth’s research enterprise.

How do you describe what your division does?

There’s a nexus of activities that we do that can basically be thought of as having two main functions. One is helping people to access and manage data that’s being collected from different sources—everything from clinical trials to electronic health records.

The other is helping people build new tools or optimize the use of existing tools. We do that through our informatics collaboratory, which includes designers, software engineers and people who can do evaluation. Using a process we call agile software development, we’re able to create, test and roll out products much more quickly and effectively than with traditional methods.

What are some of the tools you’ve developed to enhance the work of investigators across Geisel, D-H, and Dartmouth College?

One is Inspire, our research management tool. It’s a modular, app-based platform developed for the Dartmouth SYNERGY clinical and translational science community to support service requests, research tracking, resource discovery, and project management. The various research “cores,” which provide services across the institution, love the system because it helps them keep their activities organized. And it also helps us with tracking, in terms of understanding the kind of research people are engaged in.

Another, Vivo, is our faculty profiling system that allows researchers to gather, store, and share information on things like the publications they’re working on, the grants they’ve received, and who they’re mentoring. And it gives us an institutional profile that we haven’t had online before, in a way that makes it easy for people to evaluate and assess what we’re trying to do.

A third, called ISIDRO, is a new tool that we’re developing to help us ensure that once data is passed from the clinical domain to the research domain it is encrypted and protected, and handled in a secure and confidential manner.