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Press Release 13-085
University of Chicago Launches Bionimbus Protected Data Cloud to Analyze Cancer Data

Medical advances facilitated by NSF-funded foundational research provide alternative to large, costly and cumbersome storage infrastructure

racks of servers at the University of Chicago Kenwood Data Center.

The Open Science Data Cloud comprises ten racks at the University of Chicago Kenwood Data Center.
Credit and Larger Version

May 15, 2013

The University of Chicago launched the first secure cloud-based computing system that enables researchers to access and analyze human genomic cancer information without the costly and cumbersome infrastructure normally needed to download and store massive amounts of data.

The Bionimbus Protected Data Cloud, as it is called, enables researchers who are authorized by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to access and analyze data in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) without having to set up secure, compliant computing environments capable of managing and analyzing terabytes of data, download the data--which can take weeks--and then install the appropriate tools needed to perform the desired analyses.

Using technology that was developed in part by the Open Science Data Cloud, a National Science Foundation-supported project that is developing cloud infrastructure for large scientific datasets, the Bionimbus Protected Data Cloud provides researchers with a more cost- and time-effective mechanism to extract knowledge from massive amounts of data. Drawing insights from big data is imperative for addressing some of today's most vexing environmental, health and safety challenges.

"The open source technology underlying the Open Science Data Cloud enables researchers to manage and analyze the large data sets that are essential to tackling some of today's greatest challenges: from environmental monitoring to cancer genomics," said Robert L. Grossman, the director of the Open Science Data Cloud Project and a professor at the University of Chicago.

Today, as the only NIH-approved cloud-based system for TCGA data, the Bionimbus Protected Data Cloud allows researchers to focus on the analysis of large-scale cancer genome sequencing, which experts believe can unlock paths to early detection, appropriate treatment and prevention of cancer.

"We are excited that the Bionimbus Protected Data Cloud is now used for cancer genomics data so that researchers can more easily work with large datasets to understand genomic variations that seem to be one of the keys to the precise diagnosis and treatment of cancer," continued Grossman.

"With funding provided by NSF's Partnerships for International Research and Education [PIRE] program, NSF has sought to narrow the gap between the capability of modern scientific instruments to produce data and the ability of researchers to access, manage, analyze and share those data in a reliable and timely manner," said NSF Program Director Harold Stolberg.

"By embracing cloud computing as a global issue, this PIRE project brings together the expertise of many researchers, not only in the United States, but worldwide. Its success in helping researchers to access and analyze important human genomic cancer information is an exciting indicator of future developments with these technologies," he said.

Megan McNerney, an instructor of pathology at the University of Chicago, used Bionimbus to analyze data that led to her discovery that gene CUX1, which acts as a tumor suppressor, is frequently inactivated in acute myeloid leukemia.

"Bionimbus was critical for my work, as it was used for all aspects of the project, including secure storage of protected data, quality control of next-generation sequencing results, alignments, expression analysis, and algorithm development," she said. "The strength of Bionimbus, however, is the support that is provided for end users, which enabled both expert and non-expert team members to use the cloud."

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Lisa-Joy Zgorski, NSF, (703) 292-8311, lisajoy@nsf.gov
Michael McHugh, The University of Chicago Medicine & Biological Sciences, (773) 702-3641, Michael.McHugh@uchospitals.edu

Program Contacts
Kevin Thompson, NSF, (703) 292-4220, kthompso@nsf.gov
Harold J. Stolberg, NSF, (703) 292-7233, hstolber@nsf.gov

Principal Investigators
Robert Grossman, University of Chicago, robert.grossman@uchicago.edu

Related Websites
NSF Divsion of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure: http://www.nsf.gov/dir/index.jsp?org=OCI
NSF's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering: http://www.nsf.gov/dir/index.jsp?org=cise
NSF PIRE, Partnerships in International Research and Education: http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=12819

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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