Biomedical researchers often confront large quantities of information that may be amassed in many forms: vital signs, blood cell counts, lengthy DNA sequences, bar graphs, MRIs, patient demographics, and so much more. How do researchers assemble, access and analyze all that data without having to become specialized database technicians themselves?
A team of informatics experts and biomedical researchers at The Children’s Hospital of
“We want to help researchers explore their data, not their database,” said
“Our approach in Harvest is different,” said Italia, the CBMi’s manager of
Harvest, said Italia, “isn’t just shrink-wrapped, ready-to-go software.” He estimates that Harvest typically provides 80 percent of the work, leaving it to any institution’s software developer to adapt the framework to a project’s needs, in collaboration with each project’s principal investigator. Harvest is open-source, so users are free to see bug reports, check software patches, and share fixes and customizations with a wider community of users.
A key feature of Harvest is the ability to maneuver smoothly among various levels of data, from individual patient records to aggregated reports of all patients in a database, and to subpopulations in between. Users can construct queries to slice and dice data—grouping subjects, for instance, by age or ethnicity, calling up individual blood test results or MRIs, or including or excluding specific diagnoses.
One advantage of Harvest is that it provides transparency and visibility to data in a manner that is familiar to a researcher who is invested in a particular disease or project. “Harvest adopts convenient and clear interfaces to view and explore data that are increasingly used in other industries, such as social media,” said senior author and CBMi director
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