Mayo Clinic, IBM Partner for Better Care, Research

The two research giants take supercomputing to the next level, creating a database of more than 4 million patient records that can be used not just to track individual patients, but to advance medical and scientific knowledge.

The Mayo Clinic and IBM recently announced a broad collaboration to advance patient care and genomic research through a series of technology initiatives.

Although the two institutions have been partners since 2001, this plan is intended to allow the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit health care organization based in Rochester, Minn., to uniquely integrate IT systems to provide better care and effectively execute research.

Already, 4.4 million patient records have been integrated into a unified system based on a standard technology platform that provides security and privacy. The system will give physicians and researchers access to a comprehensive set of records.

For physicians, this could enable improved diagnostics and treatment by allowing a broad examination of related patient data. Doctors will be able to mine notes on patient history, disease characteristics and genetic information across these millions of patient records.

For researchers, it could help provide links between genomics and disease. The collaboration will make the Mayo Clinic the first medical institution to use IBMs Blue Gene supercomputer, providing access to an advanced supercomputing architecture.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here for more on Blue Gene, which ranked high in a list of the worlds fastest supercomputers.

The Mayo Clinic intends to use Blue Gene to advance its work in molecular modeling to better understand gene and protein structures and their interactions, providing the ability to more easily identify disease causes and prevention.

"We are at a point with standards in technology and new genomic-based analytic techniques where we can achieve more in the next 10 years than weve achieved in the past 100," said Dr. Denis Cortese, president and CEO of the Mayo Clinic.

The initiative will create personal health records that can be used in an integrated fashion for medical and research purposes. Based on a standard, open-technology platform, it could serve as a model for integrating patient records across the health care industry.

For example, by better understanding the proteins inside the human body, it is possible to more accurately prescribe drugs to combat illness. And if individual-level data can be compared with data from previous cases, it is possible to prescribe proven treatments for that patients exact conditions, replacing the protocol-driven treatment plans of today.

/zimages/4/28571.gifTo read about a protein database, click here.

"Wouldnt it be marvelous if a doctor knew not just the exact location of the patients cancer, but its gene characteristics and the outcomes of therapy in the last 500 patients with cancer in that identical location and with those identical genetic characteristics?" said Dr. Hugh Smith, vice president of the Mayo Clinic and chairman of the board of governors of Mayo Clinic Rochester.

"To do this, there needs to be a consistent way to link these kinds of data, not just in a single hospital, but regionally, nationally and globally."

/zimages/4/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms Health Care Center at for the latest news, views and analysis of technologys impact on health care.