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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
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New CAMH brain science IT platform will be a “game-changer”

Toronto, September 7, 2016 - ​CAMH’s Research Informatics team has launched a major project to enrich brain science endeavours through computational modelling and analysis. The project involves key partners in research and IT both within CAMH and at the Ontario Brain Institute. The project also builds on the recent release of new “big data” secure storage and servers at CAMH, supported by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

“This summer we initiated the next stage of the Neuroinformatics Platform project,” says David Rotenberg, Manager, Scientific Computing, in the CAMH Information Management Group (IMG). “We’re building a centralized research database that will secure and organize complex research data from medical imaging, genomics, and clinical research.”

The project will encompass several new specialized databases and, most importantly, a master or “federated” database to combine data. The platform is expected to be complete and available to CAMH researchers by summer 2017.

The Neuroinformatics Platform project is a big change to the way research data can be managed at CAMH, David says. “This will be a powerful tool to query research data for further analysis and study.”

Dr. Bruce Pollock, Vice-President of Research at CAMH, notes that the computational power of neuroinformatics and big data is a “new frontier” in mental health research. “It’s helping researchers understand the molecular mechanisms behind psychiatric illnesses.”

Dr. Etienne SibilleIncreasing the potential of research: Dr. Etienne Sibille

Dr. Etienne Sibille, Head of CAMH’s Neurobiology of Depression and Aging Laboratory, and Campbell Family Chair in Clinical Neuroscience, says the platform will be “a game changer.”

“We will use the platform’s federated database to bring together all of our past, current and future “omics” datasets, as well as those from collaborators.” Omics are technologies used to explore molecules that make up the cells of an organism. These include genomics, the study of genes and their function.

“The ability to then interrogate those combined datasets, and to integrate them with multi-modal data from other CAMH researchers is predicted to dramatically increase the potential of our research,” Dr. Sibille says. “This will speed our investigations and save researchers having to spend weeks and months of ‘archeological’ computing work to find, organize and manually link those datasets.”

With his team, Dr. Sibille’s translational research aims to identify the cellular and molecular bases of depression, specifically of the mood, affect and cognitive components of the illness. Current projects focus on mood regulation, and interneuron function of the human brain.

Illustration of a brain
The CAMH Research Informatics team is collaborating with the Ontario Brain Institute and developer indoc Research to build the CAMH Neuroinformatics Platform based on OBI’s Brain-CODE platform, David says.

“Health sciences are entering a new era driven by rich integrated data analyses,” said OBI’s Dr. Francis Jeanson. “This is leading to a much deeper understanding of biological function, and personalization to individuals.”

While independent datasets may be able to answer specific research questions, “combined datasets can help answer a multitude of questions previously difficult, if not impossible to ask,” noted Dr. Jeanson, who is OBI’s Manager of Informatics and Analytics.

OBI’s Brain-CODE platform allows researchers to access and combine datasets in neuroscience “to uncover complex brain functions and help better define brain disorders,” he said. Brain-CODE’s electronic data capture tools, data integration, and data querying capacity “enable both hypothesis- and data-driven approaches to science,” he said.

The platform can also foster collaborations with national and international databases for greater collaborations, discovery, and ultimately better patient care.

The new databases will connect with the CAMH Compute Cluster, said David. Earlier this year, the team released new secure front-end drives and powerful new servers to handle research data as well as a CAMH internally-facing drop-box. CAMH’s transition to big data is supported by a grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and matched by philanthropy through the CAMH Foundation.

“I'm an advocate of open data,” said Dr. Leon French, an Independent Scientist in CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute and Information Management Group (IMG). "My PhD studies were fuelled by atlases from the Allen Institute for Brain Science, which has produced the world's largest amount of open neuroscience data. I believe that more open data will spur new findings by allowing new ways to integrate data. Open data also will improve our ability to test our results by allowing quick testing in independent datasets.”

“I'm looking forward to seeing the neuroinformatics platform up and running. It will improve my ability to work with the scientists and the data they collect here at CAMH.”

David RotenbergCustomizing research informatics solutions: Research Informatics Manager David Rotenberg at the Russell Street big data server site. Powerful new servers and front-end drives support the new neuroinformatics platform, to be completed in summer 2017.

At CAMH, David and his team offer customized IT consulting, hardware design and support for all CAMH research groups. Their specialties include high-performance computing, databases and electronic data capture, as well as Windows, Mac and Linux platform support.

The brain science platform and many other projects underway from the Research Informatics team represent major steps in a journey to broaden, deepen and accelerate access to the research data that helps CAMH transform lives.

“The ideal future state is to support a subset of CAMH data in an open fashion,” David said. “We believe that with the vast amount of data that we will be able to curate, this could be a unique and powerful resource for Ontario, Canada and internationally.”

Research Informatics TeamCAMH’s Research Informatics Team.


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