Bioinformatics group awarded €1.3m grant to develop new medical diagnostic techniques

7 Nov 2012

Dr Paul Walsh, CEO, NSilico; Dr Roy Sleator, co-founder, NSilico; and Aisling O'Driscoll, Department of Computing, CIT

A bioinformatics research group led by researchers from Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) has been awarded a grant worth €1.3m from the European Commission to carry out a four-year project that will focus on the development of advanced cloud computing techniques for large-scale bacterial genome sequencing and medical diagnostics.

The award has been granted under the commission’s Marie Curie Industry-Academia Partnerships and Pathways programme.

The project, called ClouDx-i, will involve three partners: CIT; NSilico, a biotechnology spin-out from CIT; and the Division of Pathway Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Roy Sleator, who co-founded NSilico with Dr Paul Walsh, will be co-ordinating the research. He will be providing his expertise in bacterial genomics along with the large-scale next-generation sequencing of bacterial pathogens.

Aisling O’Driscoll from CIT’s computing department will be leading the development of the cloud computing platform technology that will use big data frameworks to carry out processing of the developed biological algorithms.

Meanwhile, Walsh will be taking the lead on the software development work in the project. This research will involve the analysis of high-performance computing techniques for the development of a software package, with the aim of allowing the medical profession to treat patients in clinics faster.

NSilico has already developed a commercial cloud computing bioinformatics product known as BioMapper.

Finally, the Division of Pathway Medicine at the University of Edinburgh will be leading the research to identify biomarkers that can pinpoint infection responses in humans.

Sleator envisions that the software that will be developed from this collaborative research, when combined with modern molecular biology techniques, is likely to have a significant impact on patient care.

“We plan to lead the development of new medical diagnostic techniques that will enable patients to be diagnosed and treated rapidly by harnessing the data processing power available in cloud computing platforms,” added Walsh.

By computerising aspects of the medical process, he said the aim is to “dramatically” reduce the time that’s needed to treat patients during hospital stays.

O’Driscoll also said future medical discoveries will depend on the ability to interpret vast, multi-dimensional data sets.

“It is vital to harness the power of cloud computing and big-data technologies, enabling large biological data sets to be analysed rapidly, without sacrificing accuracy,” she said. is hosting Med Tech Focus, an initiative which over coming months will cover news, reports, interviews and videos, documenting Ireland’s leading role in one of the hottest sectors in technology.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic