Healthcare // Clinical Information Systems
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7/15/2011
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Personalized Medicine Generates Big Data

Coriell Institute for Medical Research deploys IBM storage hardware and data management software to advance its biomedical research.

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As IBM pairs its technology with biomedical research, the company announced Friday that it has successfully teamed with Coriell Institute for Medical Research to provide storage hardware and data management software that supports the research of human genetic diseases.

Coriell, which had the largest biobank of living human cells, reached out to IBM more than a year ago when technology officials at the institute decided to build a next-generation IT infrastructure that would better protect millions of genetic samples, while also enabling Coriell's IT staff to manage the volume of data generated by analyzing the genomes of large and diverse populations needed to examine the causes of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

"This is an organization that's in the middle of a transformational change. The emphasis is now on a new set of technologies related to genetically informed personalized medicine," Scott Megill, Coriell's chief information officer, said in a statement.

According to Megill, Coriell has expanded its operations moving from its core business of biobanking, where it stores about 4.5 million samples in cryogenic storage tanks, and has moved into a new branch of genetic information that increased its data exponentially and rendered its IT systems obsolete.

"Every participant generates about two million points of data every time they give us a sample, and so the information overload that we had to deal with ... was rapidly growing out of control," Megill said.

With regard to storage, Coriell needed a system to support data collections generated from more than two million ampules of cells, one million vials of DNA, and hundreds of thousands of other biomaterials. Additionally, the Coriell Personalized Medicine Collaborative Research Study--which captures an individual's genetic differences to better understand causes for diseases--presented another data challenge.

Each participant in the study is genotyped using an array-based technology producing more than two million points of data, equaling approximately 1.5 GB of information per person. With a target goal of 100,000 participants for the study, Coriell faced a massive information storage demand that was simply too cost prohibitive using legacy storage platforms.

To solve that problem, Coriell turned to IBM and IBM business partner Mainline to implement a storage system that manages the millions of biological samples and associated data. According to officials at Coriell, IBM's low-cost storage technology has reduced its information storage costs by 30%.

IBM also provides a process tracking system to quickly and easily adapt to the nuances of such a diverse biological collection. Layered with Coriell's inventory management system, IBM software allows Coriell to electronically track each sample as it moves through various laboratory processes. These samples vary greatly in type, disease state, age, and other characteristics, and the ability to quickly pinpoint the location and specific processing stage of a particular sample provides a key advantage to Coriell.

With new technology from IBM, Coriell also can manage its cryogenic freezers that can house up to 48,000 samples and which may experience a mechanical failure while in use.

In the past, response teams had only been alerted in the event of a total failure of the unit, requiring the staff to quickly move the biological samples to a standby unit. Today, with the deployment of a new sensor array and IBM's monitoring software, Coriell has the ability to monitor real time freezer parameters, helping Coriell to take action to protect the samples before unit failure occurs.

In addition, Coriell now has the capability to understand the impact of those events on each individual sample. A wireless probe array installed in the nitrogen tanks, incubators, and freezers feeds data to a central monitoring system in real-time to give each laboratory a view into all activity taking place within the units storing samples.

To build its next generation architecture, Coriell uses several products from IBM technology including the IBM XIV Storage System, and several software products including the Tivoli Maximo, Tivoli Netcool, and IBM's WebSphere Lombardi Edition.

"Globalization has created an enormous opportunity for small to midsize firms such as Coriell to collaborate with research centers around the world. As advanced technologies have become affordable and available, Coriell is able to keep costs down and increase efficiency while also driving innovation in the area of personalized medicine," Andy Monshaw, general manager of IBM's Global Midmarket Business, said in a statement.

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