Background: The Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) contains many important ontologies in which terms are connected by semantic relations. For many studies on the relationships between biomedical concepts, the use of transitively associated information from ontologies and the UMLS has been shown to be effective. Although there are a few tools and methods available for extracting transitive relationships from the UMLS, they usually have major restrictions on the length of transitive relations or on the number of data sources. Objective: Our goal was to design an efficient online platform that enables efficient studies on the conceptual relationships between any medical terms. Methods: To overcome the restrictions of available methods and to facilitate studies on the conceptual relationships between medical terms, we developed a Web platform, onGrid, that supports efficient transitive queries and conceptual relationship studies using the UMLS. This framework uses the latest technique in converting natural language queries into UMLS concepts, performs efficient transitive queries, and visualizes the result paths. It also dynamically builds a relationship matrix for two sets of input biomedical terms. We are thus able to perform effective studies on conceptual relationships between medical terms based on their relationship matrix. Results: The advantage of onGrid is that it can be applied to study any two sets of biomedical concept relations and the relations within one set of biomedical concepts. We use onGrid to study the disease-disease relationships in the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM). By crossvalidating our results with an external database, the Comparative Toxicogenomics Database (CTD), we demonstrated that onGrid is effective for the study of conceptual relationships between medical terms. Conclusions: OnGrid is an efficient tool for querying the UMLS for transitive relations, studying the relationship between medical terms, and generating hypotheses.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere23
JournalJMIR Medical Informatics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Conceptual relationships
  • Ontology
  • Umls


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