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NSF Grants $1M to Develop Secure Health IT Infrastructure

The National Science Foundation has awarded a three-year, nearly $1 million grant to University of Massachusetts and Elizabethtown College researchers to develop a secure health IT infrastructure for translational research.

clinical research

Source: Thinkstock

By Fred Donovan

- The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a three-year, nearly $1 million grant to University of Massachusetts and Elizabethtown College researchers to develop a secure health IT infrastructure for translational research.

The researchers will use software-defined infrastructure (SDI), blockchain, secure domain system, and other advanced technology to extend the boundary of computing to sensitive data used in clinical research.  

“This is the first project to bring the agility and resilience of SDI to clinical research activities,” said Yan Luo, who is professor in the UMass Lowell’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, director of the university's Advanced Computing and Networking Systems Laboratory, and is leader of the NSF project.

Translational research harnesses knowledge from basic biomedical research to develop new drugs, therapies, medical devices, diagnostic screening, or treatment for patients and bring them to market.

“Translational research has been driven by the increasing amount of diverse datasets collected from medical instruments, sensors, patient records and genetic samples,” Luo said..

The NSF project team also includes Yu Cao, assistant professor at UMass Lowell’s Computer Science Department; Peilong Li, assistant professor at Elizabethtown College; and Silvia Corvera and Jomol Mathew of UMass Medical School.

The NSF envisions a secure IT infrastructure as a collaborative research environment in which computing systems, data storage systems, visualization tools, advanced instructions, and scientists are linked by broadband networks to provide capabilities enabling innovation and discoveries not possible within a single institution.

A secure IT infrastructure will allow researchers to access and share datasets with their external counterparts and industry partners and enable faster and more efficient virtual experiments and simulation.  

The NSF project will permit sharing and computing of sensitive datasets between private computer clusters, a shared high-performance computing facility, and a HIPAA-compliant cloud, said Luo.

“The resulting infrastructure can be applied to a wide range of cyberinfrastructure that handles sensitive data, including homeland security and counterterrorism,” he observed.

In a related grant, the NSF is providing funding to Dartmouth College computer scientist Xia Zhou to develop ways to encode and transmit data faster and more securely using visible light spectrum to augment wireless data transmission.

“Radio frequency is what we use today for wireless communication. The idea of visible light communications [VLC] is to look at another [communication] medium, which is visible light spectrum,” said Zhou.

“The idea is to turn the lights around us into wireless transmitters by encoding data into the changes in the light … [LED light] has a much wider bandwidth, and it is also more secure because light cannot penetrate the wall so you can confine the communication in the room without worry about others intercepting the traffic,” she added.

According to NSF, the proliferation of mobile devices has created two fundamental challenges: spectrum crunch and human-computer interaction.

The project undertaken by Zhou and her team seeks to address these challenges by proposing an integrated networking and sensing environment based on VLC. The proposed research advances VLC research in two new directions: VLC networking and sensing.

The project is working on integrating VLC networking and sensing for smart spaces and robust VLC networking and sensing algorithms.

The VLC networking algorithms address the following problems: frequent connection disruptions caused by user mobility and the limited coverage of individual VLC links, link interference from diffusive lights, and the optimal placement and density of LED lights.

Addressing these challenges requires efficient handoff schemes between adjacent LEDs, interference handling schemes for VLC networks, and optimization algorithms to determine the LED light deployment in smart spaces.

The technology can even transmit data when the lights are dark. “We are generating very short pulses from the LEDs that are imperceptible to our eyes but detectable by the sensors so they can still transmit data,” Zhou explained.

Zhou and her team are building a novel VLC proof-of-concept testbed, which comprises LEDs and light sensors. Results from the project will help accelerate the deployment of VLC as a new mobile networking and sensing technology.

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