IBM and the University of Missouri today announced a life sciences research initiative using IBM high performance computing technologies to advance the school’s bioinformatics research projects. The goal of the initiative is to develop a cloud computing environment for genomics research collaboration at a regional level.
In a cloud computing environment, services and storage are accessed over public or private networks. The joint IBM-MU genomics cloud would make possible large scale sharing and collaborative scientific discovery in a broad range of fields, helping advance bioinformatics research projects already underway at MU that have the potential to improve peoples’ lives.
A number of these projects involve the study of genome sequences in plants and animals to help improve the quality and quantity of food production. For example, MU researchers are studying bovine genes in hopes of increasing reproductive efficiency in livestock and looking at ways to grow corn in drought conditions. Other projects are aimed at fighting the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria and H1N1.
The development of a genomics cloud also would have a significant impact on the way patients are diagnosed, because it would bring human genome sequencing and analysis into a clinical setting for the first time, putting a valuable new tool into the hands of medical professionals and enabling a more personalized approach to medicine, IBM says.
Already, specific genetic-level changes in cancer cells drive critical treatment decisions for breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, and leukemia. To detect those changes, doctors must send patients’ DNA samples to labs for sequencing and analysis, which can take weeks, wasting valuable time that could be spent on treatment.
With access to the genomics cloud, a hospital’s onsite medical staff would be able to sequence and analyze the DNA in a matter of minutes. This information also could be used to detect genetic conditions that make some people susceptible to certain kinds of diseases or medical conditions.
“This collaboration with IBM provides our researchers, and those being trained to become tomorrow’s researchers and educators, access to critical high performance computing resources needed to process massive data sets and apply increasingly more sophisticated bioinformatics tools and technologies,” said Gordon Springer, associate professor in the MU Computer Science Department and scientific director of the University of Missouri Bioinformatics Consortium. “The availability of these resources will enable discoveries that will benefit mankind and the environment.”
The University of Missouri Bioinformatics Consortium, which supports collaborative research in bioinformatics and life sciences across the University of Missouri System and around the globe, has been developing DNA sequencing pipelines to help researchers validate their data. DNA sequencing – the process of determining the exact order of the billions of chemical building blocks that make up DNA – is a massive computational challenge that requires an extremely powerful computing platform.
In the first phase of the project, IBM will provide MU with an IBM iDataPlex high performance computing system, along with related software, that will integrate with the university’s existing computing infrastructure to significantly speed the process of DNA sequencing and analysis of humans, plants and animals. The iDataPlex will also be used to collect and store the massive amounts of data that result from that work, providing MU researchers with more reference points.
The second phase will involve MU and IBM working together to create a prototype cloud computing environment for genomics research, followed by a final phase in which the genomics cloud would become fully operational and be expanded to a regional domain. This first-of-a-kind cloud would allow sharing of bioinformatics resources among universities and institutions across a larger geographic area, which could potentially lead to a “Life Sciences Corridor” across Missouri and Kansas, and throughout the Midwest.
“IBM is excited to work with the University of Missouri on its important genomics research, to tap into the wealth of talent at the university, and to jointly develop a genomics cloud that could fundamentally change the practice of medicine as we know it,” said Elmer Corbin, director, University Alliances, IBM. “This project will not only benefit the University of Missouri, it will help establish the Midwest as a life sciences research hub.”
The joint IBM-MU research project is part of an IBM Shared University Research Award. IBM’s Shared University Research Award program aims to connect the research and researchers at universities with IBM Research, IBM Life Sciences, IBM Global Services and IBM’s development and product labs.
The Shared University Research Award program is designed to, among other things, increase access to IBM technologies for research and in curriculum.