IBM, University of Missouri to Create Genome Research Cloud

IBM and the University of Missouri are teaming up to share genome research over a cloud infrastructure running on an IBM iDataPlex system. Big Blue and MU plan a "Life Sciences Corridor" across the Midwest to make the university's research on the genome sequences of plants and animals available easily and quickly.

IBM and the University of Missouri have announced an initiative to collaborate on a research cloud computing platform across the Midwest in which researchers will be able to share data on genomic sequences.

Along with MU's current IT hardware infrastructure, IBM iDataPlex high-performance systems will significantly accelerate the process of DNA sequencing and analysis of humans, plants and animals. MU will then share bioinformatics data with other universities in Missouri, Kansas and elsewhere in the region.

"With a genomics cloud in place, researchers from multiple universities and institutions will be able to access and share bioinformatics resources and collaborate on scientific discoveries over a broad geographic region-virtually from anywhere, but the idea is for the MU genomics cloud to be concentrated in the Midwest," Jeff Tieszen, an IBM spokesperson, told eWEEK.

Cloud computing platforms provide an inexpensive option for health care providers to save money on IT resources and server space while sharing data over a public or private network.

MU's research in the life sciences involves the study of genome sequences in plants and animals to help improve the quality and quantity of food production. MU is also studying how to fight infectious diseases such as malaria and the H1N1 influenza virus. Using the genomics cloud, a medical staff could sequence and analyze the DNA in mere minutes, IBM and MU said.

In addition, genetic changes in cancer cells influence decisions on how to treat leukemia as well as cancer of the breast, colon and lungs.

"The ability to get a lot of computing and storage resources at rock-bottom cost - the ability to create an instrument for collaboration across academic research centers is critical to maintaining or increasing the pace of research in genomics-based health," Gartner analyst Wes Rishel told eWEEK. Rishel explained that collaboration is important in medical studies as organizations try to build a big enough pool, or cohort, of participants from more than one academic medical center or research organization.

"As a result, they may have to look at 100,000 likely patients to come up with a couple dozen that would be a cohort," he said. "So the ability to use the cloud both as a computing resource and a collaboration tool and the degree to which a program actually goes through the much harder business work that it takes to be a basis for collaboration will be key contributors to their success."

The joint project, which should be operational within a month, is part of an IBM Shared University Research Award program, which aims to increase access to IBM technologies to further academic research.

"The availability of these resources will enable discoveries that will benefit mankind and the environment," Gordon Springer, associate professor in the MU Computer Science Department and scientific director of the University of Missouri Bioinformatics Consortium, said in a statement.

Although IBM described the cloud computing initiative for genomics research as the "first of its kind," Gartner's Rishel noted that similar projects are in the works, although he couldn't cite specific examples. "This is leading edge but not unique," he said. "There are a number of efforts going on like this."

IBM competes with giants such as Microsoft and Google in the cloud computing space. "Cloud computing promises enormous benefits for the health-care world," wrote Steve Aylward, general manager of U.S. health and life sciences at Microsoft, in a June 28 blog post. "These could include improved patient care, better health for the overall populations providers serve and new delivery models that will make health care more efficient and effective. And cloud computing can help do all of this in a cost-effective way."