Adrian Bickerstaffe


1 SPARK: An Open-Source Knowledge Discovery Platform That Leverages Non-Relational Databases and Massively Parallel Computational Power for Heterogeneous Genomic Datasets

Authors: Thilina Ranaweera, Enes Makalic, John L. Hopper, Adrian Bickerstaffe


Data are the primary asset of biomedical researchers, and the engine for both discovery and research translation. As the volume and complexity of research datasets increase, especially with new technologies such as large single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) chips, so too does the requirement for software to manage, process and analyze the data. Researchers often need to execute complicated queries and conduct complex analyzes of large-scale datasets. Existing tools to analyze such data, and other types of high-dimensional data, unfortunately suffer from one or more major problems. They typically require a high level of computing expertise, are too simplistic (i.e., do not fit realistic models that allow for complex interactions), are limited by computing power, do not exploit the computing power of large-scale parallel architectures (e.g. supercomputers, GPU clusters etc.), or are limited in the types of analysis available, compounded by the fact that integrating new analysis methods is not straightforward. Solutions to these problems, such as those developed and implemented on parallel architectures, are currently available to only a relatively small portion of medical researchers with access and know-how. The past decade has seen a rapid expansion of data management systems for the medical domain. Much attention has been given to systems that manage phenotype datasets generated by medical studies. The introduction of heterogeneous genomic data for research subjects that reside in these systems has highlighted the need for substantial improvements in software architecture. To address this problem, we have developed SPARK, an enabling and translational system for medical research, leveraging existing high performance computing resources, and analysis techniques currently available or being developed. It builds these into The Ark, an open-source web-based system designed to manage medical data. SPARK provides a next-generation biomedical data management solution that is based upon a novel Micro-Service architecture and Big Data technologies. The system serves to demonstrate the applicability of Micro-Service architectures for the development of high performance computing applications. When applied to high-dimensional medical datasets such as genomic data, relational data management approaches with normalized data structures suffer from unfeasibly high execution times for basic operations such as insert (i.e. importing a GWAS dataset) and the queries that are typical of the genomics research domain. SPARK resolves these problems by incorporating non-relational NoSQL databases that have been driven by the emergence of Big Data. SPARK provides researchers across the world with user-friendly access to state-of-the-art data management and analysis tools while eliminating the need for high-level informatics and programming skills. The system will benefit health and medical research by eliminating the burden of large-scale data management, querying, cleaning, and analysis. SPARK represents a major advancement in genome research technologies, vastly reducing the burden of working with genomic datasets, and enabling cutting edge analysis approaches that have previously been out of reach for many medical researchers.

Keywords: Information Systems, Genomics, software, Biomedical Research

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