Fred Hutchinson uses IBM technology to help find genetic links to immune-system diseases

Seattle 12 August 2003Through an IBM Shared University Research (SUR) Award that includes computer hardware, software and research expertise, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and IBM are developing a new information system to support research on the human immune system. The new Molecular and Clinical Integrated Platform is designed to facilitate collaboration among Fred Hutchinson scientists and provide faster and more efficient access to information that could lead to scientific discovery.


Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's researchers are using IBM technology to help discover why some people are more susceptible than others to infectious and auto-immune diseases, such as leukemia and AIDS. The research also seeks answers to medical mysteries such as why vaccines protect some individuals better than others and why some close donor-recipient transplants fail.

"Right now, we spend too much time planning and positioning to overcome obstacles to managing increasingly complex data", stated John Hansen, head of Fred Hutchinson's Immunogenetics Programme. "A co-ordinated data-sharing system would be a much more productive and efficient way for research colleagues to interact. If, through our collaboration with IBM, we can make this approach work, it will provide opportunities and impetus for new collaborations."

At the core of the Fred Hutchinson system is IBM DiscoveryLink data integration technology, designed to help researchers integrate and share data from a variety of sources, formats and file types. Using DiscoveryLink, researchers can consolidate information from many sources into a "virtual database" to help solve complex medical research problems.

Fred Hutchinson's information technology infrastructure also includes an IBM eServer pSeries server running the Linux operating system, for processing DNA sequence data. This system will complement advanced DNA-sequencing equipment at Fred Hutchinson, which is used to study genes that determine a person's unique tissue type.

"Today, each researcher has to copy thousands of bits of sequences and other complex information onto a CD-ROM and walk from one office or lab to another before information critical to their collaborative studies can be shared", stated Fred Hutchinson researcher Dr. Dan Geraghty. "Each of our laboratories uses different software platforms for managing data, and we organise our databases differently. The new system will help us eliminate these research silos and share information and compare research results with other collaborators around the country."

The project's initial phase has been completed and researchers from five different Fred Hutchinson laboratories are using the system. In the future, the system could be expanded to include a broad network of users, such as doctors' offices and research laboratories around the world.

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.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home of two Nobel Prize laureates, is an independent, non-profit research institution dedicated to the development and advancement of biomedical research to eliminate cancer and other potentially fatal diseases. Fred Hutchinson receives more funding from the National Institutes of Health than any other independent United States research centre.

Recognised internationally for its pioneering work in bone-marrow transplantation, the centre's four scientific divisions collaborate to form a unique environment for conducting basic and applied science. Fred Hutchinson, in collaboration with its clinical and research partners, the University of Washington and Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centre in the Pacific Northwest and is one of 39 nationwide. More information is available in the VMW July 2003 article Fred Hutchinson launches major research effort in early detection of cancer.

Leslie Versweyveld

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