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A Healthy Approach to Data


Anyone who's ever logged onto the internet knows the indispensable nature of the search engine. WebCrawler, Yahoo!, Google and other search engines help users slash their surfing time by providing focused search criteria results at the snap of a finger.

Now imagine extending that same search-query functionality to the medical community. Through an easy-to-use browser-based engine, physicians and researchers could access countless patient history files to locate information on demographics, lab tests, diagnostics and even genetic profiles. With this information, researchers could focus searches to uncover correlations between diseases, symptomatology and patient demographics to identify potential participants for clinical testing, all without sacrificing patient confidentiality, and all from their PCs.

IBM and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., have teamed up to create a prototype of such a system, a multiphase undertaking that Mayo hopes will one day be accessible to thousands of medical researchers.

"The long-term goal is to provide the integrated IT infrastructure needed for the achievement of personalized medicine," says Deb Sutherland, IBM program director for the IBM/Mayo collaboration. "Personalized medicine aims at designing and delivering treatments based on the specific genetic makeup of each patient. The challenge lies in pulling together clinical, genomic, proteomic and system's biology information. Considering the very large volume of Mayo's current patient records, this would be one of the largest, most complex solutions developed in this domain. It's definitely a long-term project."

How it Works

At the heart of the project, initiated in January, lies an IBM eServer pSeries Model 660 running AIX* 4.3, WebSphere* and DB2*. The p660 is a trial system. Depending on how ambitious Mayo is with expansion, a decision that will be based in part on the how quickly clinical and genomic data growth will occur, Mayo may opt to upgrade the system.

The project's first phase focused on clinical records. IBM established a data warehouse that required more than 4 million patient history files to be transferred and loaded onto the p660. According to Sutherland, this daunting task ate up more than 600 GB of the system's 1.2 TB drive space.

"Considering the very large volume of Mayo's current patient records, this would be one of the largest, most complex solutions developed in this domain. It's definitely a long-term project." -Deb Sutherland, IBM program director for the IBM/Mayo collaboration

Ryan Rhodes is a freelance writer for IBM Systems Magazine.


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