Success Story

November 5, 2017

CBC cancer researchers and Globus will develop a HIPAA-protected cloud database to share collaborative cancer research

Congratulations to the University of Chicago Globus team for securing a $4.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. Globus, a cloud-based computing and storage platform was founded in 2010. The recent NCI grant will fund development of new protections for data transfer and storage, allowing scientists to securely share highly sensitive cancer research data. The Globus team will work with UChicago cancer research groups studying breast cancer, blood and bone marrow cancers, and pancreatic cancer. Among the co-Principal Investigators on the project are CBC Scientific Director Lucy Godley and CBC Senior Investigator Recruitment Resources Awardee Kevin White. Both Godley and White were co-recipients of CBC Lever Awards, with White being part of a 2008 team and Godley a member of a 2015 Lever team.

Cloud database expands services to accelerate secure cancer research

UChicago News   |   By Robert Mitchum   |   October 27, 2017

UChicago Medicine researchers and Globus will build new protected research networks that enable secure, collaborative research on cancer.

With a $4.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute the University of Chicago’s Globus—a data service initiative run by the Computation Institute—and leading cancer researchers at the University of Chicago Medicine will build new protected cancer research networks that enable collaborations while keeping sensitive health data secure and private.

Groundbreaking cancer research often requires the coordination of multiple research centers and health systems, whose scientists share and combine clinical and laboratory data to discover new advances in cancer prevention and treatment. But much of this data is sensitive and protected under patient privacy regulations, slowing or blocking collaboration between institutions and preventing the use of powerful cloud-based computing and storage platforms.

Since 2010, Globus has helped more than 25,000 researchers transfer and share 45 billion files and 300 petabytes of data in areas such as astronomy, physics and life sciences. But managing biomedical data presents additional challenges, primarily due to privacy and security protections such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which regulates how institutions handle patient data.

With the new National Cancer Institute funding, Globus will develop new protections for its high-speed data transfer and sharing services that will bring it into compliance with these tighter requirements for human subjects research data. Globus will create a HIPAA enablement toolkit that includes software, policies and procedures for managing protected data securely, and will enhance security by adding new encryption methods.

“Globus capabilities are especially relevant in cancer research, where the contrast between the opportunities inherent in large data and the challenges associated with limited IT capabilities is stark,” said Ian Foster, the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor of Computer Science and the co-founder of Globus. “There exists a tremendous opportunity to apply powerful software-as-a-service tools to enable rapid, reliable and secure data transfer and sharing among institutions engaged in cancer studies relying on human subjects research.”

Lucy Godley, MD, PhD, UChicago

Lucy Godley, MD, PhD, UChicago
CBC Scientific Director for UChicago

Additional components of the project will expand the number of cloud interfaces available to Globus users and provide robust search capabilities and automated file replication and synchronization. Together, these new enhancements will allow biomedical researchers to use a unified interface to search and manage all of their data, regardless of storage platform or data location. This ability to manage data across the entire data lifecycle—for example, from scientific instrument to compute resources to community repositories to archival storage—will unlock new possibilities for research on cancer and other diseases.

During the project, Globus will work with world-class cancer research groups based at UChicago Medicine studying breast cancer, blood and bone marrow cancers, and pancreatic cancer. With co-Principal Investigators Olufunmilayo I. Olopade, the Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and Human Genetics; Lucy Godley, Professor of Medicine; and Kevin White, Professor of Human Genetics, Globus will create new cancer research networks for these scientists and their collaborators, enabling the secure sharing and analysis of large human datasets.

“I think it will be absolutely revolutionary for how physicians do research.”

Prof. Olufunmilayo I. Olopade

Kevin White, PhD, UChicago

Kevin White, PhD, UChicago
CBC Senior Investigator

Olopade’s laboratory works with genetic data from thousands of patients, collected across sites in the United States, Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda and Brazil. Working with Globus to create the new Protected Breast Cancer Research Network will allow investigators to securely collect and share data, accelerating the group’s studies of cancer biomarkers, risk factors and gene variants. In addition, applying Globus Genomics, a cloud-based analysis tool that leverages Globus data management services, will enable compliant, high-performance cancer genome analysis across institutions.

“Globus help us do more research that actually comes from the clinic to the lab and then back from the lab to the clinic,” Olopade said. “We can store our data in a HIPAA-protected environment and share it with collaborators across the continent and around the world. That’s really what we need to get to precision oncology. I think it will be absolutely revolutionary for how physicians do research.”

In the next year, Globus hopes to work with additional research groups in the cancer and broader biomedical community that can use these services to securely manage and share protected research data, enabling multi-institutional collaboration and accelerating scientific discovery.

“Globus tools help thousands of scientists and engineers manage and share their data, so that they can concentrate fully upon their specific area of research,” said Rachana Ananthakrishnan, director of product management and design at Globus. “We’re excited to extend those services to include research involving human subjects and protected data, and expect to become eligible for HIPAA business associate agreements in mid-2018.”


Adapted (with modifications) from UChicago News, posted by Robert Mitchum on October 27, 2017.


▸ The CBC welcomes new Scientific Director for The University of Chicago, Lucy Godley

▸ First CBC Investigator Named: Kevin White, PhD


CBC Lever Award (2015):
PIs: Vadim Backman (NU), Lucy Godley (UChicago) and Jack Kaplan (UIC) for the project:
▸ Chicago Center for Physical Science-Oncology Innovation and Translation

CBC Lever Award (2008):
PIs: Kevin White (UChicago), Robert Grossman (UChicago; at UIC at the time of the award), Richard Morimoto (NU) and Luis Amaral (NU) for the project:
▸ Chicago Center for Systems Biology