Indiana University and IBM to develop advanced system for biomedical research

Bloomington 15 July 2003Indiana University has been working with IBM to create a powerful information system at the IU School of Medicine that could transform the hunt for the origins of disease and effective remedies. The new Centralized Life Sciences Data (CLSD) system is being designed to help researchers at one of the world's largest medical schools tap into a wealth of collective knowledge about the genes and proteins related to disease to make faster, better informed decisions about the causes of disease and dysfunction.


The Human Genome Project and similar endeavours have led to an exponentially increasing amount of biomedical data. CLSD places the IU School of Medicine in the forefront of institutions using innovative technology to take advantage of this data.

"A great deal is understood about individual genes and proteins, but tying together all of this information is a tremendous challenge", stated Howard Edenberg, director of the Center for Medical Genomics (CMG) and chancellor's professor, professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and professor of Medical and Molecular Genetics at the IU School of Medicine. "IU's new information system integrates data from many sources and will dramatically increase our efficiency."

At the core of the new information system is IBM's DiscoveryLink data integration technology, which helps researchers at the IU School of Medicine issue complex queries against a diverse set of data sources. The CLSD, which also is comprised of software written by University Information Technology Services (UITS) and CMG programmers, enables IU researchers to query diverse and heterogeneous biomedical databases, including data from public sources such as the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, as well as data held within the IU School of Medicine.

"The marriage of information technology and medicine and the ability to integrate huge amounts of medical and genomic data hold the promise of forever changing the way medical care is delivered", stated Dr. Robert Eades, worldwide executive, Academic and Government, IBM Life Sciences. "IU is laying the groundwork to become a leading institution in biomedical research and information-based medicine. The IU School of Medicine has chosen rock-solid infrastructure technology for data integration as its anchor."

Two aspects of the CLSD make it particularly powerful. DiscoveryLink uses a federated data approach to access multiple databases with only one query. As a result, DiscoveryLink can return to a researcher the results of complex searches quickly and efficiently and deliver results in a consolidated, consistent format, freeing the researcher from the task of making multiple searches from multiple data sources and then integrating the results. DiscoveryLink's federated database approach enables queries from multiple data sources while leaving the original data and its underlying structure intact.

In addition, software developed as part of the CLSD implementation enables researchers to initiate complex calculations of genetic similarity with a database query command, and then have the results of these calculations integrated with the results of database queries. These consolidated database and computational activities greatly accelerate biomedical research.

IU's information system is the result of collaborative research by IBM, the Indiana Genomics Initiative (INGEN) Information Technology Core of University Information Technology Services, and IU's CMG. The CLSD runs on IU's recently expanded IBM SP supercomputer at the Indiana University, Purdue University (IUPUI) campus.

The massive data queries executed by the CLSD require large amounts of storage space. Through a Shared University Research (SUR) award from IBM, IU has received IBM TotalStorage 7133 Serial Disk Systems that provide roughly a terabyte of disk storage for IU's IBM supercomputer. The development of the CLSD was made possible by the Indiana Genomics Initiative. The Indiana Genomics Initiative was established through grants from Lilly Endowment.

The current announcement of the CLSD caps a string of recent successes for Indiana University in advanced computing and life sciences. IU's AVIDD Linux cluster is ranked as the 51st most powerful supercomputer in the world, and the most powerful geographically distributed Linux cluster. IBM recently honored IU through its new IBM Life Sciences Institutes of Innovation programme, which recognises academic research institutions that are making outstanding contributions to life sciences research.

IU's efforts have reached beyond academic research. New approaches to radiation therapy for cancer treatment are being refined through use of IU's IBM supercomputers, and representatives of UITS have already conducted briefings with Indiana-based business about how advanced technology can accelerate biomedical research.

The CLSD is the most recent example of IU's efforts to simultaneously pursue basic research and transfer of technology into medical practice and economic growth. These efforts are in harmony with the Energize Indiana (EI) package passed by the General Assembly in late April. The EI plan calls for Indiana to focus on four main industries, including life sciences and information technology, to enhance the state's economy.

IBM's Shared University Research (SUR) programme awards computing equipment such as servers, storage systems, personal computing products, etc. to colleges, universities and institutions of higher education around the world to facilitate research projects in areas of mutual interest, including Life Sciences, Grid Computing, Autonomic Computing and Deep Computing. The SUR awards also support the advancement of university projects by connecting top researchers in academia with IBM Research personnel, along with representatives from product development and solution provider communities. IBM awards approximately 50 SUR awards per year worldwide.

Indiana University is one of the oldest state universities in the Midwest, and also one of the largest universities in the United States, with more than 110.000 students, faculty, and staff on eight campuses. IU has a growing national and international reputation in the areas of information technology and advanced networking. IU's extensive information technology environment is made up of high performance computing resources, facilities for massive data storage, and advanced visualisation laboratories that enable scientists to visualise, analyse and store vast amounts of data and information.

IU's advanced IT facilities have been supported in part by grants and/or awards from a number of sources, including the National Science Foundation; IBM Corporation; DoE Office of Science SciDAC and NSF grants; and grants from Lilly Endowment Inc. in support of the Pervasive Technology Laboratories of Indiana University and the Indiana Genomics Initiative. More news on the collaboration between Indiana University and IBM is available in the VMW November 2001 article Indiana Genomics initiative to benefit from new IBM supercomputer at Indiana University.

Leslie Versweyveld

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