From DNA sequencing to disease discovery: the impact of flash technology  

From DNA sequencing to disease discovery: the impact of flash technology  

The advancement of fast and reliable flash technology, allows hospitals and medical facilities to now make sense of vast amounts of data, understand patients’ medical needs and deliver more tailored healthcare. Omar Akar, Regional Vice President, Middle East & Emerging Africa at Pure Storage, tells us about the transformative effects of flash technology on DNA sequencing, data storage and personalised medicine, highlighting its potential for accelerating patient treatment and revolutionising healthcare practices. 

Personalised medicine is not a new concept. While there has been an understanding that people react to medicines or develop symptoms differently, the tools have previously not been available to understand these differences and deliver personalised care to patients.  

Now, personalised medicine isn’t a dream but a reality, thanks to advances in two areas of technology — next-generation DNA sequencing and big data analysis. Both these processes require fast, highly parallel data storage to be effective at scale and both generate an unprecedented volume of data which has got to be stored in a way which is energy efficient and accessible. For hospitals and medical facilities, the excitement comes from making sense of this data and using it to understand patients’ medical needs and deliver more personalised healthcare.  

Accelerating patient treatment: the impact of DNA sequencing  

DNA sequencing is a vital part of delivering personalised healthcare. Sequencing allows doctors to understand people’s genetic makeup and have more knowledge of the similarities and differences that impact reactions to drugs and susceptibility to certain illnesses. The main benefit for patients is receiving a tailored treatment plan and starting treatment sooner.  

The first successful human DNA sequencing took ten years, at a cost of $3 billion. Today, thanks to next-generation sequencing machines and fast data storage, it is possible to sequence DNA in less than an hour for less than $1,000. 

The main barrier for clinicians now is the very fast analysis of the DNA samples of multiple patients, as legacy technology simply can’t achieve this. Old spinning disk infrastructure is too slow, so the pace of progress is immeasurably slower. One of the big advantages of flash storage is it can deliver massive parallelism, which allows the simultaneous ingestion and analysis of genomic data from dozens of patients. This reduces the time required to sequence the same number of people. Sequencing can then be done on a large scale, both in terms of computation and storage, which reduces the cost of sequencing while increasing the scale. The more people are sequenced, the more data there is to draw from and the better understanding of how medicine is likely to impact a person.   

Coping with the data explosion  

Health data is heterogeneous in terms of format, size and frequency of use: the difference between the size of imaging files and that of genomics files can be one to 1,000 times greater. Additionally, the amount of data created is rapidly increasing petabytes of information is produced by each hospital. This represents a major challenge to store data in an efficient and useful way for clinicians.  

In this context of data explosion, it is necessary to have storage which offers sufficient performance and capacity to cope with this data explosion and deliver personalised medicine at scale.  

Flash technology paves the way for next-generation personalised medicine 

In the face of these challenges, traditional storage technologies are outdated and obsolete, with hard disk drives consuming too much power, taking up too much space and performing too slowly. Legacy technology is unable to cope with the explosion of data and the need for fast, large-scale analysis. Overcoming these obstacles is now essential for hospitals and medical facilities if they want to provide a personalised medicine service to their patients. There are some flash solutions that can meet these needs because of their parallelism, low cost, small environmental footprint and low power consumption. The benefits are not only to do with the speed to insight and faster diagnosis — they’re about using less energy and taking up less space which is good for the environment and lowers costs. 

Two examples illustrate the impact of all-flash technology in accelerating genomic analysis capabilities: With Pure Storage, the Swiss Health 2030 Genome Center has made its genomic data analysis available to clinicians ten times faster and since adopting Pure Storage’s solutions, has doubled the speed of transferring large data from the sequencing platform to researchers. The Australian Genome Research Facility (AGRF) has accelerated its projects by 86%, including a six-fold increase in the speed of pre-analysis of genomic data since it began using Pure’s solutions. 

Future looking healthcare 

Today, the medical sector no longer must wonder whether the technology exists to help it increase its genomic activity for the benefit of patients: flash technology has the capacity to perform large-scale genomic analysis at speed. Legacy spinning disk storage is simply incapable of supporting such an increase in sequencing activity on a daily basis and on a large scale.  

The impact for patients of adopting this technology is immediate: they get the most suitable treatment without spending time testing different solutions or medicines. By finding genomics variations in patients, healthcare professionals can directly assess each patient’s sensitivity to drugs and their effectiveness, so they can prescribe the right treatment for them from the start. By combining data from multiple diagnostic platforms, like medical imaging and digital pathology, with the results of DNA analysis, the doctor has a complete picture of a patient’s information to make an informed decision about the best treatment. This personalised medicine approach is what any patient has the right to expect from a hospital today. 


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