NIH funds multilanguage portal

Officials from the National Institutes of Health have awarded a two-year, $780,000 contract to a small technology company based in Jacksonville, Fla., to create a multilanguage Web portal that would facilitate better collaboration among researchers.

The portal would include Web conferencing for meetings, seminars, mentoring sessions and other types of e-learning. Innovative Decision Technologies Inc. officials would also create a repository to archive and share Web conferences, text-based documents and threaded discussions.

"We have a very strong Web conferencing [capability], which can be configured to a low bandwidth environment," said Pramod Jain, the company's president. "The quality will be low, but you still will be able to function. Now, in most situations, when you get to that low bandwidth, you just can't function."

Otherwise, Jain said, they would have to purchase dedicated Internet service providers and equipment, which would be an expensive proposition.

There would be no translation capabilities within the portal, meaning information typed by a foreign researcher into the collaborative portal would remain in his or her native language. A university or research facility would have to get a translator for such content.

However, Jain said, it's an opportunity for researchers worldwide to collaborate to a greater extent. "NIH is investing heavily into these international partnerships and the reasoning is to enhance their research capabilities so they can understand, [for example,] the epidemiology of diseases, when they originate and how to prevent them," he said.

Jain said in many other countries, certain topics are taboo and swept under the rug. He said NIH wants to train foreign researchers to better investigate such matters and help them make better policy decisions.

The company was awarded a Small Business Innovative Research phase II contract. It had already conducted a feasibility study and built a prototype. Jain said they are fine tuning the system, conducting usability testing and adding more functionality.

The company is partnering with a number of other vendors, in addition to, hospitals, universities and other research facilities in the United States, Turkey, China, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Vietnam and India.

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