‘All of Us’ Technology Platform Aims to Democratize Research

All of Us, a $1.5 billion National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative to collect DNA and health data on one million Americans from diverse backgrounds, was launched in 2017 to expand the reach of precision medicine. In addition to this goal, the initiative’s technology partners have been aiming to democratize research by increasing access.

“All this work was to create new science,” said Chris Lunt, chief technology officer for All of Us. “We want to bring this research to an audience who’s been denied access. That is a participant problem, but it’s also a researcher problem.”

The initiative has been building a huge dataset of health information using Terra, a cloud-based analytics platform created by Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Alphabet’s life sciences company Verily. Currently, there are 15,000 users from around the world entering data in the platform’s Researcher Workbench. Using a “data passport,” researchers have access to the entire All of Us dataset – which they can mine for insights through collaborative projects.

“Alongside the growth in genomic data and the growth in diversity of data is the increase in collaboration, both between different labs and between people with different functions: data generators, tool developers, and researchers,” said Clare Bernard, a senior director at Broad Institute who works on the Terra platform.

In addition, the lower cost of cloud computing helps open the field to more researchers. After using $300 of free credits, Terra users only pay for the cloud data storage they use, and while the Researcher Workbench is still in beta mode, All of Us allows users to run analysis for free. Andrea Ramirez, MD, an endocrinologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and an All of Us contributor, claims her team’s average analyses have cost less than $15 per project.

All of Us also plans to accommodate users who do not necessarily wish to share their work but want to use Terra for proprietary research through a new partnership with Microsoft. Early access to these offerings is expected to become available in the second quarter of 2021.

Source: STAT, February 22, 2021.