St. Jude turns to the cloud to battle childhood cancer

By moving its library of genomic data to the cloud, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has provided a platform for scientists around the world to collaborate.

St. Jude turns to the cloud to battle childhood cancer
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When you’re dealing with petabytes of scientific data, getting it all into the cloud can take time. But once it’s there, running experiments on your data from anywhere in the world is simple — and all you need to download are your results. Convincing researchers to embrace this paradigm shift, though, can take the support of partners across the organization and beyond, as Keith Perry, senior vice president and CIO at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, has learned.

St. Jude is working to map the genetics of childhood cancers as part of its search for cures. It uses genetic sequencing to determine the whole genome sequences — essentially all of the DNA — of its patients’ healthy cells, and also of their tumors. Comparing the two, and also the genomes of other patients with similar cancers, can provide vital clues to a cure.

That’s very much a big data problem. St. Jude has recorded the whole genome sequences of over 5,000 patients, and each sequence is around 100 gigabytes. Researchers may be hunting for mutations or other genetic markers in just a few bytes of that.

Because of the rarity of some of these childhood cancers, researchers around the world want to compare data — but it’s not easy given the volumes involved. Perry cites the example of a researcher who took six months to download a huge dataset and check it for quality, then just a couple of days to run the analysis.

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