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About Sickkids
About SickKids

September 19, 2016

SickKids awarded more than $1.9 million in CFI funding to support sharing of genomic data through new computational infrastructure

By Gemma Villanueva

Dr. Michael Brudno, Director of the Centre for Computational Medicine at SickKids

On September 15, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) announced new funding for research infrastructure and technology, including a grant of more than $1.9 million for groundbreaking research led by The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). The funding is part of CFI’s latest Cyberinfrastructure Initiative, which will distribute more than $13 million for seven projects at six universities across the country.

Dr. Michael Brudno, Director of the Centre for Computational Medicine at SickKids, will receive $1.96 million in support of Canadian Distributed Infrastructure for Genomics (CanDIG), a  cutting-edge computational infrastructure for genomic analysis. It will act as a hub, bringing together doctors and scientists who are working on genomic sequencing. This will connect computational infrastructure and data between Canadian genomics and high-performance computing sites, as well as additional data from research communities from around the world. Genomic data will be easily accessible, and will help foster the sharing and analysis of this research across Canada.  

“At the end of the day, CanDIG aims to make computation easier,” Brudno explains. “Not through buying more hardware, but connecting existing computers in a smarter way. It will optimize the way biological and health scientists access data sets of cohorts with diseases such as cancers and autism, as well as public data.”

Brudno’s team includes leading researchers from BC Cancer Agency, Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research – Jewish General Hospital, McGill University, Simon Fraser University, Université de Sherbrooke and University Health Network.

“The team combines the three biggest genomic centres in Canada, as well as the three of the biggest computational sites for health-care research,” says Brudno. “We’re bringing together a large fraction of the Canadian computational genomics community to address this problem.”

The consortium will also implement innovative tools to process, integrate and explore private and public genomics data sets using resources from Compute Canada, an umbrella group representing academic high-performance computing groups. These developments will stem from existing projects, such as the Genetics and Genomics Analysis Platform (GenAP), a computing platform for life science researchers.

The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (Ga4GH), an international coalition that enables the sharing of genomic and clinical data, has been developing application programming interfaces (APIs) for storage and retrieval of large-scale genomic datasets.Brudno’s team aims to implement these APIs on Compute Canada infrastructure.

With the new CFI funding, the CanDIG team will continue to expand. A new research associate was hired to work on this infrastructure, connect the various components and develop software. “This new cyberinfrastructure funding enables us to collaborate with teams across the country in a much more efficient way,” says Brudno. ““This is a project that would not have been possible without these distinct groups coming together, so that we can leverage expertise across institutions.”

CFI’s cyberinfrastructure initiative is designed to enable communities of researchers, along with data scientists, data analysts and other experts, leverage organizing and using research data resources. Most of this infrastructure is virtual software, which is used to manage data.