Biomedical question answering using semantic relations

BMC Bioinformatics. 2015 Jan 16;16(1):6. doi: 10.1186/s12859-014-0365-3.


Background: The proliferation of the scientific literature in the field of biomedicine makes it difficult to keep abreast of current knowledge, even for domain experts. While general Web search engines and specialized information retrieval (IR) systems have made important strides in recent decades, the problem of accurate knowledge extraction from the biomedical literature is far from solved. Classical IR systems usually return a list of documents that have to be read by the user to extract relevant information. This tedious and time-consuming work can be lessened with automatic Question Answering (QA) systems, which aim to provide users with direct and precise answers to their questions. In this work we propose a novel methodology for QA based on semantic relations extracted from the biomedical literature.

Results: We extracted semantic relations with the SemRep natural language processing system from 122,421,765 sentences, which came from 21,014,382 MEDLINE citations (i.e., the complete MEDLINE distribution up to the end of 2012). A total of 58,879,300 semantic relation instances were extracted and organized in a relational database. The QA process is implemented as a search in this database, which is accessed through a Web-based application, called SemBT (available at ). We conducted an extensive evaluation of the proposed methodology in order to estimate the accuracy of extracting a particular semantic relation from a particular sentence. Evaluation was performed by 80 domain experts. In total 7,510 semantic relation instances belonging to 2,675 distinct relations were evaluated 12,083 times. The instances were evaluated as correct 8,228 times (68%).

Conclusions: In this work we propose an innovative methodology for biomedical QA. The system is implemented as a Web-based application that is able to provide precise answers to a wide range of questions. A typical question is answered within a few seconds. The tool has some extensions that make it especially useful for interpretation of DNA microarray results.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Abstracting and Indexing*
  • Algorithms*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Humans
  • Information Storage and Retrieval*
  • Natural Language Processing*
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis*
  • Pharmacogenetics
  • Semantics*
  • Software*