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Gigascience. 2013 Aug 30;2(1):11. doi: 10.1186/2047-217X-2-11.

Research prioritization through prediction of future impact on biomedical science: a position paper on inference-analytics.

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Department of Biomedical Informatics, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15206, USA.



Advances in biotechnology have created "big-data" situations in molecular and cellular biology. Several sophisticated algorithms have been developed that process big data to generate hundreds of biomedical hypotheses (or predictions). The bottleneck to translating this large number of biological hypotheses is that each of them needs to be studied by experimentation for interpreting its functional significance. Even when the predictions are estimated to be very accurate, from a biologist's perspective, the choice of which of these predictions is to be studied further is made based on factors like availability of reagents and resources and the possibility of formulating some reasonable hypothesis about its biological relevance. When viewed from a global perspective, say from that of a federal funding agency, ideally the choice of which prediction should be studied would be made based on which of them can make the most translational impact.


We propose that algorithms be developed to identify which of the computationally generated hypotheses have potential for high translational impact; this way, funding agencies and scientific community can invest resources and drive the research based on a global view of biomedical impact without being deterred by local view of feasibility. In short, data-analytic algorithms analyze big-data and generate hypotheses; in contrast, the proposed inference-analytic algorithms analyze these hypotheses and rank them by predicted biological impact. We demonstrate this through the development of an algorithm to predict biomedical impact of protein-protein interactions (PPIs) which is estimated by the number of future publications that cite the paper which originally reported the PPI.


This position paper describes a new computational problem that is relevant in the era of big-data and discusses the challenges that exist in studying this problem, highlighting the need for the scientific community to engage in this line of research. The proposed class of algorithms, namely inference-analytic algorithms, is necessary to ensure that resources are invested in translating those computational outcomes that promise maximum biological impact. Application of this concept to predict biomedical impact of PPIs illustrates not only the concept, but also the challenges in designing these algorithms.

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