Launching eagle-i: A national consortium for revealing hidden scientific resources

A scientist opens an Internet search engine and types in the name of a rare but necessary cell line needed for his research. Within moments, he sees that a researcher at another nearby university has generated just the kind of cell line he needs, and sends her an email to learn more about it and start the discussion about access.

Right now this kind of rapid resource discovery is highly unusual. The majority of existing research resources cannot be found easily, if at all, using university websites, the scientific literature, or Internet search engines. The scientist would likely never know that the cell line was available, and would spend months developing his own.

But over the next two years, collaborators from Dartmouth College, Harvard Medical School, Jackson State University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Montana State University, Oregon Health and Science University, the University of Alaska, the University of Hawaii, and the University of Puerto Rico will build a national research resource discovery network that will allow biomedical scientists to quickly find previously invisible but potentially valuable research resources (e.g., technologies, animal models, equipment, cell and tissue banks, training opportunities). At first this network will only access the initial nine sites, but eventually any institution in the US will be able to participate.

This new consortium, called the eagle-i Consortium, was founded with a $15 million American Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA) grant from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR; part of the NIH) and supports an NCRR goal to establish a national network for research resource discovery. A portion of the funding will help create more than four-dozen jobs.

By making it easier for researchers to search for and find things like animal models, reagents, tissue banks, core laboratories, the eagle-i network will help reduce the time and effort spent by scientists on searching for resources needed for their work, and also reduce the amount of funding spent re-creating resources that already exist but which scientists cannot readily find, according to Lee M. Nadler, MD, leader of the consortium site at Harvard Medical School and director of Harvard Catalyst | The Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center.

“This project is about linking scientists nationally to resources, technologies, and opportunities, and about making invisible resources visible to the researchers who need them,” Nadler said. “Historically little has been done to systematically inventory and advertise research resources beyond the labs or institutions where they were developed, and so investigators are often left to expend significant time and effort seeking out unique resources, sometimes even unwittingly re-creating resources that already exist elsewhere.

“The eagle is a remarkable bird, able to search for and pinpoint objects quickly, even those that are invisible to other animals,” Nadler continued. “With the eagle-i network, we want to help researchers rapidly find the materials and technologies they need and use their funding for research, not for developing resources that already exist.”

Leveraging existing information technologies, the consortium will collect information about the resources available at each of the nine institutions and catalog that information in a dedicated, web-based search portal in a federated network: one in which each resource inventory is stored locally and connected together. When launched, the scenario above will become much more likely: A scientist will be able to use the portal to search across the inventories of all nine sites and see whether a laboratory or facility at one of them has the cell line he needs.

“By building the eagle-i network this way, each participant can maintain complete local control of the information made available,” said Douglas MacFadden, director of informatics technology at Harvard Medical School’s Center for Biomedical Informatics and a development leader in the consortium. “Also, this will make it relatively easy for other institutions to develop their own resource inventories and upload that data into the network in the future.” Indeed, at the end of the two-year project period, the eagle-i Consortium will turn the network over to NCRR and provide the processes, instructions, and materials necessary for other institutions to collect their own resource inventories and upload that data into the network.

Collectively, the nine consortium sites represent a full range of environments (urban, suburban, rural), geographies, levels of infrastructure, sizes, and racial/ethnic backgrounds. Each institution also already participates in at least one NCRR-funded program (i.e., BIRN, COBRE, CTSA, INBRE, NPRC, RCMI, RTRN).

For more information, visit the national press release and information page published by NCRR, as well as press releases issued by Dartmouth, Harvard Medical School, Jackson State University, Montana State University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Oregon Health and Science University, the University of Alaska, the University of Hawaii, and the University of Puerto Rico.