Aug 27 2018

NIH Taps Google Cloud to Tackle Disease with Data

The National Institutes of Health joins a slew of research and provider organizations harnessing the power of the cloud to speed analysis and democratize medical data.

With the cloud at their disposal, several organizations have been able to advance their research into disease — and now the National Institutes of Health is among them.

NIH launched in late June an initiative that aims to “harness the power of commercial cloud computing and provide NIH biomedical researchers access to the most advanced, cost-effective computational infrastructure, tools and services available,” according to a press release from NIH.

Google has signed on to the initiative as the first cloud provider for the Science and Technology Research Infrastructure for Discovery, Experimentation and Sustainability Initiative, which will offer cloud computing, storage and machine learning via Google Cloud to more than 2,500 research institutions.

“NIH is in a unique position to bring together academic and innovation industry partners to create a biomedical data ecosystem that maximizes the use of NIH-supported biomedical research data for the greatest benefit to human health,” NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, who also serves as NIH’s interim associate director for data science, said in the press release. “The STRIDES Initiative aims to maximize the number of researchers working to provide the greatest number of solutions to advancing health and reducing the burden of disease.”

The initiative has emerged as part of NIH’s Data Science Strategic Plan, released in June, and will involve collaborations with NIH’s Data Commons Pilot, a group of projects that seeks to test methods for working and sharing data in the cloud. After a series of pilots, the cloud services and tools will become available to the NIH-supported community to support innovative research projects. Meanwhile, NIH will continue to seek more partners that can further support biomedical research.

“The volume of data generated in biomedical research labs across the world is growing exponentially,” said Gregory Moore, vice president of healthcare at Google Cloud. “Through our partnership with NIH, we are bringing the power of data and the cloud to the biomedical research community globally. Together, we are making it easier for scientists and physicians to access and garner insights from NIH-funded data sets with appropriate privacy protections, which will ultimately accelerate biomedical research progress toward finding treatments and cures for the most devastating diseases of our time.”

The Cloud Takes Medical Research to New Heights

NIH isn't the only one taking advantage of the cloud to further research. The cloud’s ability to store, sort and analyze huge volumes of data makes it ideal for research organizations that need to process massive amounts of medical data.

By tapping commercial cloud services, many care organizations have found a way to make “more basic and applied research findings available sooner to clinicians for the care and treatment of their patients, and the clinical results of care and treatment available to researchers in the pursuit of their research and development activities,” J. Peter Melrose, an independent IT consultant to healthcare providers and a contributor to the Cloud Standards Customer Council’s white paper “Impact of Cloud Computing on Healthcare Version 2.0,” told HealthTech in a previous interview.

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, for example, has tapped the IBM Bluemix hybrid cloud infrastructure for its  IBD Plexus initiative, and has made research-ready data available for several research projects — including ones that require massive amounts of patient info. The cloud has made it possible to expedite data collection and facilitate near-real-time data transfers cost effectively, says Angela Dobes, the IBD Plexus senior director.

“Before this, for the most part data was siloed and only accessible to the researchers who conducted the research,” Dobes told HealthTech, adding that now data is a reusable asset.

Cancer research is getting a boost from the cloud, as well. The National Cancer Institute has launched the Genomic Data Commons at the University of Chicago and several Cancer Genomics Cloud pilots that seek to accelerate cancer research and democratize data.

And genomics research — with mountains of data per genome — is perhaps one of the largest opportunity areas for the cloud. For this reason, organizations like St. Jude, a pediatric cancer research hospital in Memphis, Tenn., are launching their own internal clouds. Working with Microsoft and DNAnexus, the organization launched the St. Jude Cloud in 2018, an “online data-sharing and collaboration platform that provides researchers access to the world's largest public repository of pediatric cancer genomics data,” Bio IT World reports.

“This is really our vision,” Jinghui Zhang, chair of Computational Biology at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, tells Bio IT World. “To make the cloud a space for laboratories that do not have huge local infrastructure, make the cloud a common platform for accessing the data and analyzing the data.”

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