Easing the growing pains

Coriell Institute teams with IBM to advance personalized medicine efforts

Jeffrey Bouley
ARMONK, N.Y.—IBM technology recently brought into the Camden, N.J.-based Coriell Institute for Medical Research has made the biobank's ability to manage inventory and data easier and reportedly brought down the institute's storage costs by nearly a third.

Research centers worldwide draw upon Coriell's diverse collections of biomaterials, which contain cell lines, DNA and other samples representing more than half of approximately 4,000 known genetic diseases—something that puts a major burden on Coriell's systems.

"Coriell is the world's leading biobank, so we have the world's largest collection of cells and DNA from thousands of different genetic diseases in the world," notes Dr. Michael F. Christman, president and CEO of Coriell. In addition, Coriell is exploring advancement in personalized medicine using one's genetic information to tailor individual patient medical care while ensuring an individual's privacy.

"The mission of Coriell really is using human genetics to improve lives. The Coriell Personalized Medicine Collaborative is a very sweeping attempt to figure out the best practices," Christman says. "We're a nonprofit, and our goal is simply to determine what are the best practices in using this information—this genetic information—in medicine. So, this is an organization that is in the middle of a transformational change."

The emphasis that came along with that kind of change required a new set of technologies that could handle Coriell's massive data needs.

"In the past, we had a core business of biobanking where we store about four-and-a-half million samples—and that information needs to be very well cared for," explains Scott Megill, Coriell's chief information officer, "but at the same time, we started to move into this new branch of genetic information that, quite frankly, our internal systems were not keeping up with. Every participant generates about two million points of data every time they give us a sample, and so the information overload we had to deal with—both to store and analyze and make use of—was rapidly growing out of control."

Christman's view is that the technology for analyzing genes has evolved more rapidly than even computer technology over the last 10 years or so. Combined with the fact that the cost of determining the complete sequence of someone's genome "has come down a millionfold in the last five years," as he puts it, Coriell had some catching up to do.

"Six or eight years ago, there was a system built internally to handle all of the basic inventory management, laboratory tracking, control of all the specimens—the work that is done here—but it became pretty apparent as I came in about a year and a half ago that this system simply wasn't flexible enough to be able to handle the rapid change that was occurring in the medical industry," Megill says. "So for us, it was a pretty easy decision for us to say, 'It's time for us to think about evolving to the next generation of tools and technology.' And so that's when we reached out to IBM to see where their fit in our organization could really help us hit the next level."

The complete Coriell solution includes the IBM XIV Storage System, IBM Tivoli Maximo, IBM Tivoli Netcool and IBM WebSphere Lombardi Edition.

The use of IBM storage system at Coriell reportedly scales more cost effectively than traditional disk storage and, as a result of using IBM's low-cost storage technology, Coriell has reduced its information storage costs by 30 percent.

In addition, to meet the challenges of a biobanking center that supports national and international scientific research, Coriell also looked to IBM to provide a process tracking system to quickly and easily adapt to the nuances of the institute's diverse biological collection. Layered with Coriell's inventory management system, IBM software allows Coriell to electronically track each sample as it moves through various laboratory processes. These samples vary greatly in type, disease state, age and other characteristics, and the ability to quickly pinpoint the location and specific processing stage of a particular sample provides a key advantage to Coriell.

"The implementation of the various tools we've brought in from IBM have really simplified our jobs in IT. It's made it a lot easier for us to extend our storage, to monitor our systems and to adjust to the varying needs of the business," Megill says. "And these were things that in the past had taken multiple people, multiple days and in some cases weeks to implement any changes at all. And now we bring in a better tool set—quite frankly, a better architecture overall—and we're now able to meet those needs with a much smaller staff."

"Globalization has created an enormous opportunity for small- to mid-size firms such as Coriell to collaborate with research centers around the world. As advanced technologies have become affordable and available, Coriell is able to keep costs down and increase efficiency while also driving innovation in the area of personalized medicine," says Andy Monshaw, general manager of IBM's Global Midmarket Business. "Aligning the right technology infrastructure to meet its 'big data' challenges, Coriell is well-positioned to promote tomorrow's medicines and treatments to help usher in a new era of medicine."
 

Jeffrey Bouley

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