IBM and University of Calgary collaborate to advance genomic health research

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 Research News J E 4

MARKHAM, ON and CALGARY, June 15, 2016 /CNW/ - IBM (NYSE: IBM) and the University of Calgary have established a five-year collaboration to accelerate and expand genomic research into common childhood conditions such as autism, congenital diseases and the many unknown causes of illness.

As part of the collaboration, IBM will augment the existing research capacity at the Cumming School of Medicine's Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute by installing a POWER8-based computing and storage infrastructure along with advanced analytics and cognitive computing software.

Researchers have investigated hundreds of genetic cases at the Alberta Children's Hospital, contributing to the identification of 30 new genes. However, one in four children admitted to the Alberta Children's Hospital has an unknown or undiagnosed illness. With access to these new tools, scientists can better generate, store and analyze complex clinical, genetic and imaging data, and expect to reduce from months to days the cycle times required for investigations into how genes and environmental factors impact child health.

This precision-medicine approach will lead to opportunities for better diagnostics, prevention and more personalized treatment protocols.

"Advances in our ability to capture and analyze data have truly cross-cutting affects for research programs throughout the university," says Ed McCauley, vice-president (research), University of Calgary. "This collaboration will not only allow researchers to sort through larger data sets and provide advanced skill development opportunities for our trainees, it will increase capacity for genomics work in Calgary."  

The initiative will support three projects including the work of Dr. Micheil Innes, a member of the Department of Medical Genetics as the Cumming School of Medicine. Dr. Innes is researching more rapid and accurate diagnosis of genetic disorders and through his work was able to help a Calgary teenager who was diagnosed with a rare form of autism.

Genomic medicine promises to revolutionize biomedical research and clinical care, enabling scientists to identify individuals at risk, provide early diagnoses based on biomarkers, and recommend effective treatments. But the field of genomics has been caught in a flood of data that often outpaces the ability to quickly store, analyze, share, and archive it, creating an obstacle to discovery. The new technology platform at ACHRI is designed to specifically address these challenges.

"IBM has always believed investment in research and development is an important driver for Canada's competitiveness, and few fields offer greater opportunities for innovation than healthcare," says Dino Trevisani, president of IBM Canada. "Improving the health and vitality of our children requires collaboration across government, social programs, life sciences, health researchers and providers. Taking a holistic view of the individual and entire populations, and sharing technology and knowledge, can lead to better, more cost-effective care."

About IBM

IBM is one of Canada's top ten private R&D investors, and in 2015 contributed more than $477 million to Canadian research activities. IBM has a unique approach to collaboration that provides academic researchers, small and large business, start-ups and developers with business strategies and computing tools they need to innovate. Areas of focus include health, agile computing, water, energy, cities, mining, advanced manufacturing, digital media and cybersecurity.

More information is available here.

About the University of CalgaryThe University of Calgary is making tremendous progress on its journey to become one of Canada's top five research universities, where research and innovative teaching go hand in hand, and where we fully engage the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is called Eyes High, inspired by the university's Gaelic motto, which translates as 'I will lift up my eyes.'

For more information, visit Stay up to date with University of Calgary news headlines on Twitter @UCalgary. For details on faculties and how to reach experts go to our media centre at

About the Cumming School of MedicineThe University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine is a leader in health research, with an international reputation for excellence and innovation in health care research and education.

On June 17, 2014, the University Of Calgary Faculty Of Medicine was formally named the Cumming School of Medicine in recognition of Geoffrey Cumming's generous gift to the university.

For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @UCalgaryMed

About Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute

The Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) is a multi-disciplinary research institute of the University of Calgary, Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation.  Through excellence in research, knowledge translation and education, the institute fosters the health and well-being of children from pre-conception to adulthood.


Initially, the platform will support these ACHRI researchers' efforts:

Dr. Micheil Innes, who is a geneticist at the Alberta Children's Hospital. Recently, he diagnosed a unique genetic trait causing the condition of autism in an Alberta teenager. The mutation was not previously identified. The diagnosis has helped the family learn about this specific kind of autism and helped them deal with the development of their child. By introducing IBM's technology, Dr. Innes will be able to pursue more cases like this one. 

Dr. Suzanne Tough, who is an Alberta Heritage Foundation health scholar and scientific director for the Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research. She has established a study of 3,000 mothers-infant pairs in Calgary and with this data, is leading a study, funded by Alberta Innovates, examining how families and children cope with stress from big events like the Calgary flood and the recent economic downtown. With the IBM collaboration, it will be possible for the information from the biologic samples to be managed with all of the data collected in the study since 2008. This integration of biologic data with lifestyle and environment data helps researchers untangle the relative contribution of genes and environment to childhood challenges such as coping with stress.

Dr. Sarah Childs, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Genetics and is a Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada Scholar. She recently published with a team of international scholars leading research in the journal Lancet Neurology identifying specific new genetic causes for stroke and hypertension, and providing a biological basis for these genes by using model organisms.

SOURCE IBM Canada Ltd.



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