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Personal molecular profiling detects diseases earlier

Today, as the 2014 Big Data in Biomedicine conference continues, a related story about the importance of computing across disciplines posted on the Stanford University homepage. The article describes research making use of the new Stanford Research Computing Center, or SRCC (which we blogged about here). Over the next few days we'll run excerpts from that piece about the role computation, as well as big data, plays in medical advances.

snyder - smallOur DNA is sometimes referred to as our body’s blueprint, but it’s really more of a sketch. Sure, it determines a lot of things, but so do the viruses and bacteria swarming our bodies, our encounters with environmental chemicals that lodge in our tissues and the chemical stew that ensues when our immune system responds to disease states.

All of this taken together - our DNA, the chemicals, the antibodies coursing through our veins and so much more - determines our physical state at any point in time. And all that information makes for a lot of data if, like genetics professor Michael Snyder, PhD, you collected it 75 times over the course of four years.

Snyder, who is a member of Stanford Bio-X and the Stanford Cancer Center, is a proponent of what he calls 'personal omics profiling', or the study of all that makes up our person, and he’s starting with himself. “What we’re collecting is a detailed molecular portrait of a person throughout time,” he says.

So far, he’s turning out to be a pretty interesting test case. In one round of assessment he learned that he was becoming diabetic and was able to control the condition long before it would have been detected through a periodic medical exam.

If personal omics profiling is going to go mainstream, serious computing will be required to tease out which of the myriad tests Snyder’s team currently runs give meaningful information and should be part of routine screening. Snyder’s sampling alone has already generated a half of a petabyte of data - roughly enough raw information to fill about dishwasher-size rack of servers.

Right now, that data and the computer power required to understand it reside on campus, but new servers will be located at SRCC. “I think you are going to see a lot more projects like this,” says Snyder. “Computing is becoming increasingly important in medicine.”

Previously: New computing center at Stanford supports big data, Stanford researchers work to translate genetic discoveries into widespread personalized medicine, Stanford geneticist talks tracking biological data points and personalized medicine, How genome testing can help guide preventative medicine and ‘Omics’ profiling coming soon to a doctor’s office near you?
Related: Big data
Photo of Snyder by Saul Bromberger

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