Why the Next Medical Revolution Needs Cloud Computing
This is the third in a trio of articles that explore the health, financial and intellectual implications of cloud computing. For the previous two,
For some time now, genomics or the study of genes has been branded as the possible playing field for the next medical revolution. Indeed, some believe that genomics can have as much an impact on human civilization this century as computers did in the previous one, with possible applications from the frivolous (specifying eye color in an unborn child) to momentous (developing designer medicine to target specific symptoms in specific patients).
Although genomics is still a new technology, it is already finding applications, much like cloud computing. Earlier this year genomics enabled the treatment of a California teenager who had difficulty breathing. While doctors remained puzzled over the cause using traditional diagnostic methods, mapping of the girl’s genetic code enabled them to pinpoint the problem and treat it successfully.
Now, mapping of the human genome involves an exhaustive process called genome sequencing. It can be defined as “a laboratory process that determines the complete DNA sequence of an organism’s genome at a single time. This entails sequencing all of an organism’s chromosomal DNA as well as DNA contained in the mitochondria and, for plants, in the chloroplast.” Now, this is where cloud computing can have a monumental impact.
Gene sequencing produces an enormous amount of data, and processing this data requires an enormous amount of computing power. While the price of gene sequencers has reduced drastically over the years, the same is not true for computing resources. Unless, cloud computing is the resource being used.
That is why several companies in this space are looking at cloud computing as an integral part of advances in this field. Keeping this in mind, medical devices manufacturer PerkinElmer recently acquired Geospiza, a provider of lab software and cloud-based genomic data services. PerkinElmer plan to use cloud computing to provide storage and analysis services as gene sequencers become more affordable.
Geospiza has had considerable experience in using the cloud for genetic studies. The University of Florida’s Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research has been a regular client since 1999, first for its software, then for its cloud services starting in 2009. According to William Farmerie, the center’s associate director of emerging science, such a move allowed it to sequencing services for researchers in a more user-friendly manner.
Processing humongous amounts of data is something cloud computing is definitely good at due to its distributed architecture that allows for optimum load balancing and seamless transfer of information. Aside from genetic research, this ability can be used for all fields of human activity that involves the creation and analysis of prodigious amounts of data. Some that readily come to mind are business intelligence, stock markets analyses, espionage and counter-espionage, etc. In other words, cloud computing can be used to convert data into usable information.
And it’s not only its ability that makes cloud computing such an attractive proposition; it’s also the cost, or comparative lack of it. A supercomputer costing millions can perhaps replicate a cloud-based solution’s ability to process data, but the latter will do it at much, much lower costs. This is something I had discussed in an earlier article (See: Fighting Above Your Weight Class through Cloud Computing).
In conclusion, if, in a decade, genetic research develops a cure for cancer by creating drugs that can specifically target malignant cells without harming the others, you can be sure that cloud computing will have had a major role to play.
By Sourya Biswas