An integrative knowledge graph for rare diseases, derived from the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

J Biomed Semantics. 2020 Nov 12;11(1):13. doi: 10.1186/s13326-020-00232-y.


Background: The Genetic and Rare Diseases (GARD) Information Center was established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to provide freely accessible consumer health information on over 6500 genetic and rare diseases. As the cumulative scientific understanding and underlying evidence for these diseases have expanded over time, existing practices to generate knowledge from these publications and resources have not been able to keep pace. Through determining the applicability of computational approaches to enhance or replace manual curation tasks, we aim to both improve the sustainability and relevance of consumer health information, but also to develop a foundational database, from which translational science researchers may start to unravel disease characteristics that are vital to the research process.

Results: We developed a meta-ontology based integrative knowledge graph for rare diseases in Neo4j. This integrative knowledge graph includes a total of 3,819,623 nodes and 84,223,681 relations from 34 different biomedical data resources, including curated drug and rare disease associations. Semi-automatic mappings were generated for 2154 unique FDA orphan designations to 776 unique GARD diseases, and 3322 unique FDA designated drugs to UNII, as well as 180,363 associations between drug and indication from Inxight Drugs, which were integrated into the knowledge graph. We conducted four case studies to demonstrate the capabilities of this integrative knowledge graph in accelerating the curation of scientific understanding on rare diseases through the generation of disease mappings/profiles and pathogenesis associations.

Conclusions: By integrating well-established database resources, we developed an integrative knowledge graph containing a large volume of biomedical and research data. Demonstration of several immediate use cases and limitations of this process reveal both the potential feasibility and barriers of utilizing graph-based resources and approaches to support their use by providers of consumer health information, such as GARD, that may struggle with the needs of maintaining knowledge reliant on an evolving and growing evidence-base. Finally, the successful integration of these datasets into a freely accessible knowledge graph highlights an opportunity to take a translational science view on the field of rare diseases by enabling researchers to identify disease characteristics, which may play a role in the translation of discover across different research domains.

Keywords: Data integration; GARD; Knowledge graph; Ontology; Rare diseases.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Ontologies*
  • Computer Graphics*
  • Databases, Factual*
  • Humans
  • Rare Diseases / genetics*
  • Translational Medical Research