Cloud computing is the framework behind many of the technologies we use daily. Mobile apps, streaming content and SaaS solutions are just three examples. But the cloud is also a key enabler in the quest to find cures for devastating diseases.
The cloud is giving genomic researchers a low-cost, no-maintenance alternative to owning and maintaining equipment and IT staff for informatics, the science of processing very large sets of data.
Bioinformatics requires scalable secure storage as well as high-capacity computing for analysis and interpretation of research data. Application development also has an important role providing integration and customization services.
The requirements are expensive and can stymie budget-restricted public-health groups, universities, laboratories, medical centers and other stewards of medical research. But the cloud is making a difference not only in affordability but also by expanding what’s possible.
In a recent webinar hosted by Bio-ITWorld.com, National Institute on Aging (NIA) researcher Mike Nalls explained how the NIA is using cloud-based resources to aggregate all available exome data for Parkinson’s disease into one database for use by the larger Parkinson’s research community. The goals of the project are to:
- Aggregate Parkinson’s exome data from 10+ research sites with different requirements for permissions and sharing
- Aggregate publically available high-quality neurologically normal control data
- Use cloud infrastructure and analytics pipelines
- Realign, recall, combine and calibrate data to reduce possible errors/artifacts
- Replicate via re-sequencing
- Accelerate discovery.
“The NIA and the other participating groups didn’t have the in-house resources to store and process the approximate one petabyte of source data. And even if they had, the length of time it would have taken to do so would have been prohibitive, about $100,000 for a relatively brief project,” Nalls said. The cloud offered the obvious solution and is accelerating the process (to five weeks) at a cost of about $22,000.
To build the informatics system, the NIA designed a secure hybrid cloud infrastructure working with Google’s Cloud Platform, which includes specific tools for genomic researchers, and Onix, a Premier Google Cloud implementation partner and technology services provider. Onix facilitated the specific government requirements for procurement and terms of service.
What does the future look like for other researchers like Nalls? The cloud-based program presents NIA a model for accelerating genomics research so that scientists can discover new knowledge about diseases and conditions that lead to more and better treatment options. For example, the group Autism Speaks is using cloud resources to compile a groundbreaking population study of people with autism, uncovering new information about genetic influencers.
Google is taking a leadership role in cloud-enabled genomic research. The company has a long-term vision of enriching research by enabling the inclusion of new types of data from digital health records, medical sensors and other sources.
It’s been said that knowledge is power. Indeed that’s the case when studying large, complex patient populations in search of cures and better care protocols. The cloud is opening access and accelerating action in genomics research, giving researchers more knowledge-building opportunities than ever before.
To hear the NIA story firsthand, access the webinar now.