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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A generalizable NLP framework for fast development of pattern-based biomedical relation extraction systems

Yifan Peng1*, Manabu Torii12, Cathy H Wu12 and K Vijay-Shanker1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Delaware, 18 Amstel Ave, Newark, DE 19716, USA

2 Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, University of Delaware, 15 Innovation Way, Newark, DE 19711, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2014, 15:285  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-15-285

Published: 23 August 2014



Text mining is increasingly used in the biomedical domain because of its ability to automatically gather information from large amount of scientific articles. One important task in biomedical text mining is relation extraction, which aims to identify designated relations among biological entities reported in literature. A relation extraction system achieving high performance is expensive to develop because of the substantial time and effort required for its design and implementation. Here, we report a novel framework to facilitate the development of a pattern-based biomedical relation extraction system. It has several unique design features: (1) leveraging syntactic variations possible in a language and automatically generating extraction patterns in a systematic manner, (2) applying sentence simplification to improve the coverage of extraction patterns, and (3) identifying referential relations between a syntactic argument of a predicate and the actual target expected in the relation extraction task.


A relation extraction system derived using the proposed framework achieved overall F-scores of 72.66% for the Simple events and 55.57% for the Binding events on the BioNLP-ST 2011 GE test set, comparing favorably with the top performing systems that participated in the BioNLP-ST 2011 GE task. We obtained similar results on the BioNLP-ST 2013 GE test set (80.07% and 60.58%, respectively). We conducted additional experiments on the training and development sets to provide a more detailed analysis of the system and its individual modules. This analysis indicates that without increasing the number of patterns, simplification and referential relation linking play a key role in the effective extraction of biomedical relations.


In this paper, we present a novel framework for fast development of relation extraction systems. The framework requires only a list of triggers as input, and does not need information from an annotated corpus. Thus, we reduce the involvement of domain experts, who would otherwise have to provide manual annotations and help with the design of hand crafted patterns. We demonstrate how our framework is used to develop a system which achieves state-of-the-art performance on a public benchmark corpus.