Global Health Press
Big Data strategy to revolutionise infectious disease diagnosis

Big Data strategy to revolutionise infectious disease diagnosis

shutterstock_11681002Public Health England have drawn together advanced data tools to better their diagnosis and surveillance of life-threatening infectious diseases.

The Department of Health’s executive agency Public Health England is using a big data storage system inspired by DataDirect Networks (DDN), an industry leader in data storage solutions with a varied and global customer base.

PHE’s new system, built alongside computer solutions provider OCF, is now supported by a ‘high-performance server cluster,’ and will rapidly analyse genome sequences, supporting the diagnosis and treatment of viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic diseases.

The initiative goes some way to meeting Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘100,000 Genome Project’ promise, made in late 2012, to identify and analyse aggressive pathogens in 100,000 patients with an infectious disease. The information could then be used to accurately predict disease outbreaks, allowing PHE to provide targeted and cost-effective public health interventions.

Infectious diseases of particular concern in the UK include the notorious Norovirus, AKA winter vomiting disease, which has spread across hospital and care home populations and infects between 600,000 and 1 million people a year.

The new system will speed up previous genome sequencing processes significantly, as the cluster parallelises the analysis of generated sequences. The time taken to analyse hundreds of genomes could be cut down from many hours to as little as one hour or less.

300 terabytes of storage space are given over to the project, allowing researchers to store and share data proactively for up to three or four months. The final data will then remain in a DDN archive and can be shared with research organisations indefinitely.

Julian Fielden, Managing Director of OCF, said: “The team at PHE realises the benefits of HPC (high-performance computing) and big data storage, and is using both to set the standards for the rest of the world to follow. PHE is pioneering use of DNA bacterial sequence data to provide a public service. It’s the first project of its type in the World.”