A National Institutes of Health (NIH) official said today that the agency is leveraging its vast flows of data through Google Cloud to lengthen the lives of Americans and reduce the impacts of disabilities and disease.

Nick Weber, program manager of cloud services at NIH’s Center for Information Technology, said at the Google Government Summit in Washington, D.C. today that transitioning to the cloud has saved the Federal agency $41 million and counting.

“Because we have been able to partner with Google,” Weber continued, “we’ve been able to save the government over $40 million to reinvest back into the research.”

“The goal here is to say, if we have all of this data accessible,” he asked, “what does that mean for our health outcomes, and our family and kids’ health outcomes in years to come?”

“That’s really what we want to engender is this ecosystem of data and tools on the cloud that can really accelerate the path to discovery and enhance NIH’s mission – which is to lengthen life and reduce the impact of disability and disease,” Weber said.

Weber noted that despite NIH moving nearly of its research programs to Google Cloud, the technology still presents unique challenges to the agency.

“The challenges are size and how do we deal with this amount of data,” Weber continued, “The challenges are knowledge and training.”

“There are a number of core challenges that many programs face,” he said.

One way that Google has worked with the Federal agency to mitigate these barriers, the NIH official said, is through a cloud lab.

“One of the challenges we see in researchers adopting cloud is they don’t know what they don’t know,” Weber explained. “[Cloud lab] is really meant to allow researchers to have a try before they buy experience.”

“Researchers come and test out tools – like AI,” he said. “The goal with cloud lab, other than building a partnership with Google, is to lower that barrier of [confusion].”

This tool is currently available internally for NIH, but Weber said it will become public facing for all researchers using the agency’s data in early 2023.

Keyvan Farahani, program director at NIH’s National Cancer Institute (NCI), described Google Cloud as a “broad and rich environment for development.”

The agency uses a lot of images within its data to study and better understand cancer, which Farahani described as a “complicated disease.”

“The datasets coming to us are increasingly getting larger, and we want to make use of cloud infrastructure,” he said. “The advantage of going to cloud is because the process can eventually be automated.”

Leveraging the Google Cloud platform has allowed Farahani’s researchers to develop tools for cancer treatment and diagnosis. “Cloud providers are at the forefront of advancing healthcare,” he said.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.