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The case for putting genomic data in the cloud securely

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Putting genomic data on the cloud could enable physicians to deliver a whole new level of personalization to patient care. The Coriell Institute's Scott Megill and IBM's Dan Pelino explain.

Scott Megill is the CIO for the Coriell Institute for Medical Research. Dan Pelino is the General Manager of IBM's Global Healthcare & Life Sciences Industry group.

Sharing 3.2 billion data points of genomic data with the global scientific and medical community can make a world of difference in advancing personalized medicine. The key is that it needs to be done securely with the importance placed on protecting patient information.

As the human population soars and life expectancy rises, there is a greater need for the most innovative technological advancements to solve medical issues that plague the global population. Over the past five decades, life expectancy of women has increased from 75 to 80, and for men, from 65 to 70. Increased longevity has heightened demand on healthcare delivery due to higher numbers of chronically diseased patients. This, in turn, puts a huge financial burden on the entire healthcare industry.

This longer-living population, coupled with the growth of the developing world and capital constraints, is planting the "seeds" for a new crop of medical innovation, specifically in the area of genomic research where data is now being made available to physicians.

While the cost of DNA sequencing is steadily decreasing, the amount of data generated with next-generation sequencing technologies is growing at an unprecedented pace. In the age of "Big Genomics Data," conveniently sharing the tremendous volume of data securely has become a significant research bottleneck.

Cloud-based analytics are alleviating this bottleneck and enabling the democratization of genomics -- creating some innovative new businesses. Applying cloud to genomics is a game-changer, increasing scientific collaboration, education and cultural exchange between countries exponentially.

Significant security advances in authentication and authorization have made the cloud safer than ever before enabling significant advances in genomic research and information sharing. Many smaller research organizations find that large cloud centers managed by technology providers deliver the security and resiliency to ensure their data is protected.

What will influence the adoption of new technological innovation? While innovation is constant, it is important to consider what drives adoption of new technology. A number of factors and circumstances will ultimately lead to adoption of these new approaches to advance the area of personalized medicine.

Innovators will need to prove their solutions improve care beyond the current standard of caring for patients. Figuring out how to improve the economics to make it more affordable to store, process and analyze all that data is the challenge for technology providers. For many research labs, it's still an expensive proposition to buy and maintain a system capable of storing and processing potentially petabytes of data.

And, if doctors or researchers want to collaborate with colleagues, their IT infrastructures won't have the bandwidth to handle sending even the raw data for a single genome, which could amount to 3.2. billion data points per human genome. That's why many research institutions are looking to the cloud to move massive scientific data sets.

Data made available on the cloud could enable physicians to match genome sequences to sets of normal or tumor tissue samples from pediatric cancer patients. Access to this cloud data can provide both a level of insight never seen before and a rich resource of insights into many other types of diseases in children and adults. Medical records will be enhanced with this deeper level of insight for physicians to more effectively prescribe drugs treatments that the individual will respond to.

The healthcare industry is making preparations for the day in the not-too-distant-future when whole-genome sequencing becomes essentially routine and where the physician has a better understanding of the individual patient , delivering a whole new level of personalization to patient care.

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