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The hunt to cure Alzheimer’s: A data case study


December 27, 2018  


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By Paul Barker

The power of data is evident daily at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) in Brisbane, Australia, which specializes in neuroscience research and is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

According to Jim Brown, global sales executive for Hitachi Vantara at Broadcom Ltd., at any given time there is upwards of 8.5 petabytes of data in existence and typically “more than 100 researchers will simultaneously move data at 2.2 GB per second in and out of storage in daily operations.”

Speaking at a recent corporate customer event in Toronto, he said that when you have labs dedicated to understanding the fundamental mechanisms that regulate brain function, the IT infrastructure needed to allow that to happen is immense.

In the case of QBI, he added, “you have a combination of high performance, high-scalability and automation all built into one customer set. It shows you it can be done in the most difficult environment.”

There are several components to a storage infrastructure that allow researchers using Oracle Hierarchical Storage Manager (HSM)  to deal with what Jake Carroll, the institute’s senior IT manager for research called “very large neuroscientific datasets from a multitude of cutting edge instrumentation including microscopes, genome sequencers and MRI scanners.”

“You want to get all the performance one can out of a flash and solid-state drives and arrays. You want to maximize the investment, liberate the input/output (IO) and provide a better outcome for research. If your network is too small or has high latency, you’re not maximizing your investment.”

The three are Hitachi Accelerated Flash, Hitachi VSP G series arrays and Brocade Gen 6 fiber channel switches.

A press release from Brocade issued prior to it being bought by Broadcom last year for US$5.9 billion, stated that “while it has been remarkably successful in making major neuroscientific discoveries – with an Alzheimer’s breakthrough among the world’s most discussed medical research last year – the difficulty accessing, storing and managing increasingly large data sets from brain imaging and microscopy devices is a constant consideration.

“Continuous improvement is vitally important to ensure scientific research staff has a zero friction experience in their workflows.”

Researchers, said Brown, are working to solve some of the greatest problems that humanity faces in terms of mental illness.

“They are the top-of-the-top solving the toughest issues when it comes to mental health. When you look at what has happened in the neuro science and medical research industry in the last few years with advancements in image scanners, microscopes, DNA sequencers, (researchers) are able to generate so much higher resolution and much quicker frame rates.

“The capability they generate now is phenomenal and it accelerates their research, but on the flip side, it puts a strain on their IT infrastructure.”

Hu Yoshida, chief technology officer at Hitachi Vantara, wrote in a blog that QBI’s treatment of Alzheimer’s is “unique in that it makes use of non-invasive high-frequency ultrasound – not drugs – to clear a path for blood proteins to enter the brain and clear out clusters of lesions that cause memory loss and a decline in cognitive functions in Alzheimer’s patients.

“This may not only cure Alzheimer’s, but may reverse its effects. Successful trials were run on mice, but more research (has) to be done before a human trial can begin due to the thickness of the human skull.

“This involves the capture, indexing, storing, sharing and archiving a tremendous amount of data that includes DICOM for human model data, NGS Genome sequencing data, electrophysiology, which is the study of the movement of electrical charges in biological tissues and high end super res + confocal microscopy.”

Other speakers at the Toronto event included George Crump, founder and lead analyst for the Dallas, Tex.-based consultancy Storage Switzerland, who spoke on changing data protection and data management trends.

“For any organization in the digital age data is their greatest asset,” said Marcel Escorcio, general manager and vice president of Hitachi Vantara Canada. “The answer to new revenue streams, better customer experience, and increased operational efficiency is there in the data waiting to be discovered.  However, more data in its own is meaningless unless we know what to do with them.”