Background: One of the difficulties in mapping biomedical named entities, e.g. genes, proteins, chemicals and diseases, to their concept identifiers stems from the potential variability of the terms. Soft string matching is a possible solution to the problem, but its inherent heavy computational cost discourages its use when the dictionaries are large or when real time processing is required. A less computationally demanding approach is to normalize the terms by using heuristic rules, which enables us to look up a dictionary in a constant time regardless of its size. The development of good heuristic rules, however, requires extensive knowledge of the terminology in question and thus is the bottleneck of the normalization approach.
Results: We present a novel framework for discovering a list of normalization rules from a dictionary in a fully automated manner. The rules are discovered in such a way that they minimize the ambiguity and variability of the terms in the dictionary. We evaluated our algorithm using two large dictionaries: a human gene/protein name dictionary built from BioThesaurus and a disease name dictionary built from UMLS.
Conclusions: The experimental results showed that automatically discovered rules can perform comparably to carefully crafted heuristic rules in term mapping tasks, and the computational overhead of rule application is small enough that a very fast implementation is possible. This work will help improve the performance of term-concept mapping tasks in biomedical information extraction especially when good normalization heuristics for the target terminology are not fully known.