Federal Players

Dr. David Lipman, National Institutes of Health Director of the National Center for Biotechnology Information
Dr. David Lipman, National Institutes of Health Director of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (Photo courtesy of Sam Kittner/Kittner.com)
From the Partnership for Public Service
Monday, February 9, 2009; 12:00 AM

David Lipman of the National Institutes of Health is an Internet pioneer who has worked for more than a decade to make critical medical and scientific information available online for scientists, researchers and the general public.

Now Lipman is pushing the digital boundaries even further, employing a Google--style approach to make the voluminous government databases he helped create even more accessible and user-friendly.

Lipman said the goal of his "Discovery Initiative" is not simply to provide researchers with more information on medical topics, but to "offer them links to the highest quality pieces of information so that they can perform at the highest level possible."

"It's like ads on Google -- if you like this article, you might want to read these four articles," said Lipman, the director of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

Lipman envisioned, helped create and now oversees more than 40 publicly available online medical and scientific databases within NIH, although he gives much of the credit to his team.

The databases, which are interconnected for maximum research capabilities, are used daily by more than two million people. Each week the equivalent of all the text content in the Library of Congress is downloaded from these databases.

They include PubMed, an online service that allows the public to search abstracts from approximately 4,600 of the world's leading biomedical journals; PubMed Central, an archive of 1.7 million full-text journal articles from biomedical journals; GenBank, the world's largest genetic sequence data repository; and PubChem, a resource that connects chemical information with biological studies.

"His vision enabled NCBI to be one of the very best public resources available," said Richard J. Roberts, a molecular biologist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine. "The current state of biological research would not be where it is if NCBI did not exist."

"He has truly done an extraordinary job at NCBI and continues to be imaginative and forward looking," said Roberts.

The readily-accessible NCBI databases are proving helpful both to researchers and to the general public in finding important medical information.

Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, said she never expected that, a decade after becoming familiar with Lipman's work through her job, she would use PubMed Central to help her own family.

In 2008, Joseph's five-year-old son Alex was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. At night, Joseph would wake her crying son for his insulin shot, without which he could go into a coma -- or worse.

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