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eMedLab data storage servers. Image credit: OCF Plc, used with permission.

MRC-funded supercomputer 'eMedLab' is an invaluable to researchers using Big Data

22 Jun 2017

This case study forms part of our Investing for Impact report, looking at how MRC- funded research delivers impact. More can be found in the Investing for Impact section of our website.

MRC eMedLab is a cloud-based computing platform that now supports six separate projects in MRC’s stratified medicine portfolio. Funded in 2014 by the MRC, eMedLab is a high-performance cloud-computing platform with a focus on three disease areas. Since its launch, this platform has proven invaluable to researchers studying cancer, heart disease, and rare diseases. In March 2017, eMedLab was awarded the Best Public Sector Project at the annual UK Cloud Awards.

Academic research that uses large datasets can run into two problems; how can academic institutions with limited budgets afford the computer power necessary to analyse the huge data sets produced by modern science; and how can they share these data sets efficiently for collaboration without having to replicate them many times? 

In 2014 the MRC made an investment of £8.9 million to a consortium of institutions to create a shared offsite datacentre, eMedLab. This resource would allow scientists to analyse human genome data and data-rich medical images, together with clinical, physiological, and social data, to benefit human health. The collaborative resource is co-hosted by University College London (UCL), Queen Mary University London (QMUL), London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), the Francis Crick Institute, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the European Bioinformatics Institute.

eMedLab data storage servers. Image credit: OCF Plc, used with permission.

MRC eMedLab now supports six separate projects in MRC’s stratified medicine portfolio. eMedLab’s unique contributions were recognised in March 2017 when it was awarded the Best Public Sector Project at the annual UK Cloud Awards. eMedLab currently has almost one hundred users from across the project partners and other institutions and industry. Some of the projects, ranging across various diseases and representing many of the partner organisations include:

  • Dr Samra Turajlic and Professor Charles Swanton at the Francis Crick Institute are using eMedLab to analyse kidney cancer genome data to understand how cancer evolves in response to treatment. In April 2018, their work received national coverage for identifying three evolutionarily distinct types of kidney cancer, and revealed that the first seeds of kidney cancer are sown as early as childhood. This important research demonstrates how robust computing infrastructure delivers excellent science that can help develop better treatments and earlier diagnoses.

Dr Samra Turajlic

 “eMedLab has allowed our group to work with a whole genome dataset which couldn’t possibly be accommodated within our standard computational resource. Thanks to eMedLab we are able to analyse renal cell cancer data collected through our renal TRACERx protocol which aims to better our understanding of cancer evolution. Via eMedLab we are also able to share these data with our international collaborators for additional analyses.” – Dr Samra Turajlic, Francis Crick Institute.

  • Professor Steffen Petersen and his team at QMUL showed in August 2018 that people exposed to air pollution levels well within UK guidelines have changes in the structure of their heart, similar to those seen in the early stages of heart failure. The project was possible through access to UK Biobank participants, with data analysis carried out using eMedLab medical bioinformatics infrastructure, and co-funding from the British Heart Foundation.  

Award details: MR/L016311/1

Categories

  • Categories: Research
  • Health categories: Cancer, Cardiovascular, Generic
  • Locations: London
  • Type: Impact story, Success story