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Multinational research consortium builds cloud to share clinical data

Before this initiative, stakeholders say, such a collaboration would have been difficult to coordinate, with challenges including insufficient data entry and security concerns over the transfer of large amounts of patient data between centers.

Jeff Rowe | Mar 05, 2018 12:00 am

Healthcare organizations are increasingly attracted to the cloud for reasons ranging from potential savings on IT to more flexible access to data.  But a recent article at OpenGovAsia shows how medical researchers are benefiting from the cloud, as well.

In an effort to develop a better understanding of, and response to, a form of tuberculosis that affects the eyes (Ocular TB), experts from 25 international Ophthalmology centers from 10 countries teamed up in a pilot trial of the use of a cloud-based data aggregation platform to facilitate multinational clinical research collaboration.

According to the article, Dr. Rupesh Agrawal started research on ocular TB in London in 2012, reviewing case records of more than 300 patients and published reports in different scientific journals, then conducted a similar study in Singapore, looking at 60 patients over 5 years.

“The initiative was taken from Singapore and soon centers from US, Australia, India, the Middle East and more were on-board. Clinicians everywhere were facing the same challenges so joining forces and collaborating was seen as the way ahead.”

One of the key challenges, Dr. Agrawal explained, was to design a secure, multi-user data aggregation system with a centralized data repository accessible by an administrator user. The data collection had to be uniform and standardized, so that data clean-up was minimized. In addition, patient confidentiality could not be breached.

Other challenges included navigating a range of data privacy requirements, adequate data encryption and a platform simple enough for participants around the world to be able to use it effectively with minimal training.

According to Dr Agrawal, “We finally managed to get the form the way we wanted it to be. That form has given us a lot of data from 25 participating centers in 10 countries. With that data, we published our first report in the journal, JAMA Opthalmology. There are other reports in the pipeline, two more papers. One more is published and another will be published very soon. Three more are under review.”

In addition, a colleague added, the cloud platform “facilitated the international collaboration and overcame many limitations of existing scientific descriptions of this disease which are limited to small cohorts of patients from singular localities. Some of its key benefits were ease of coordination of a multinational clinical investigation and ‘protocolized’ data aggregation to extract meaningful data on a poorly understood subject matter.”

The results of the study included novel findings that improve understanding of the disease and question existing doctrines that are based on limited available evidence from existing literature.