Focus on: CCTR Biomedical Informatics Core

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The Biomedical Informatics Core (BIC) provides an infrastructure that allows researchers at VCU and their colleagues at other institutions better access to clinical data and improved data management tools. This infrastructure brings people together and promotes learning, researching and practicing. It also offers users research informatics expertise.

BIC not only has a variety of different tools, data and resources available at no cost, but it also provides users with the training and education they need to take full advantage of the resources made readily available.

The Research Portal powered by the BIC is a communication channel that gives researchers a means of finding information about the resources available to them and information about the data in the clinical data warehouse. More importantly, the portal is a way for researchers to communicate with each other.

“The Research Portal is a place where investigators can ask questions, find message boards with answers to their questions, and a place to identify and prioritize available resources,” said Tim Aro, manager of information systems in BIC.

REDCap is electronic data capture software that administers surveys and acts as a data management tool for researchers when they collect their own data. It helps researchers manage their studies in terms of building a calendar and electronic case report forms. REDCap has been particularly successful through its various supports and training systems as well the BIC staff’s ability to work with researchers.

More than 1,300 researchers at VCU have utilized REDCap on nearly 700 projects.

REDCap was integral to the success of Spit for Science: The VCU Student Survey, which provided students the opportunity to engage in a voluntary and confidential, universitywide research project aimed at understanding how genetic and environmental factors contribute to alcohol use and emotional health. REDCap was used to inform, consent, and collect survey responses from participants.

“Our experience with the BIC staff has been excellent; specifically, Tim Aro and Michael Tran have consistently gone above and beyond to ensure that the software is meeting our projects needs,” said Kimberly Ailstock, M.S., project coordinator of the Spit for Science research project. “We have and will continue to recommend REDCap to other researchers. Both REDCap’s versatile functionality and its supportive staff at VCU have proven essential to the success of Spit for Science.”

According to Ailstock, the software’s advanced security system provided confidence that the data collected was protected. The convenience of the web-based survey tool also played an important role in allowing participants to take the survey anytime, anywhere.

“Additionally, the versatility of REDCap’s various tools, such as the date export tool, report building, graphical view and stats provide a fast, informative and easy to use means to view the data that is collected,” said Ailstock. “Most importantly, REDCap is constantly adding new features to improve its functionality.”

Bi-monthly classes as well as a liaison program are offered where volunteers can complete a training program and help those who have questions with REDCap. Hundreds of people across VCU’s campus have completed training and volunteer to assist others, helping to make REDCap less intimidating to users.

Another service provided by BIC is cohort discovery, which includes the i2b2 (Informatics for Integrating Biology and the Bedside) tool. It is an easy to use, self-service tool that provides researchers the ability to query several sources of patient data, including electronic medical records, lab results and demographic data. Investigators can use i2b2 to discern whether patient populations meeting certain inclusion and/or exclusion criteria exist. It is one step in the process of identifying whether your study is feasible.

“i2b2 allows users to ask research questions and get preliminary count result,” said Jon DeShazo, Ph.D., BIC co-director and assistant professor of health administration. “Users can select search terms from familiar taxonomies, like demographics, diagnoses, medications, procedures and laboratories.”

The BIC continues to expand its tools with new projects. Be on the lookout for more information in the coming months about OnCore, a clinical trial management tool, and Vivo, a web-based network of scientists that will facilitate collaborations and scholarly discovery across VCU and beyond.