Sophie is a technology reporter at the Daily Telegraph. She previously worked for a number of B2B technology publications including Techworld and eWeek Europe.
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Activities that involve gathering vast quantities of data are often portrayed in a negative light, but Sophie Curtis reveals how 'big data' is also being used to identify the links between genetics and diseases such as cancer, diabetes and obesity.
Although the Human Genome Project was declared complete in April 2003, data-driven medical research is a growing field. The Wellcome Sanger Institute, which was the single largest contributor to the Human Genome Project, is now using so-called 'big data' to investigate the genetic make-up of some of the most common causes of premature death.
"Of course it’s properly consented data and it’s then done anonymously. We don’t actually know who they are, we just get the samples and then we look at them," said Tim Cutts, acting head of scientific computing at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.
"We have to have the ability to access this data very quickly, and your average disk drive from PC World just isn’t going to cut it," said Cutts. "When you’re doing storage at this scale, we have to make sure that it is reliable and happens quickly enough."
"The sort of statistical correlation analysis that we’re doing these days is an absolute classic 'big data' problem," said Cutts. "It’s exactly the sort of thing that market research people will be doing with your Nectar Point data – it’s the same sort of calculation but it’s a different problem."