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Washington U to Fund Genomic Data Center Expansion with $14M Stimulus Grant

By Alex Philippidis

This is an updated version of a story first posted March 10, correcting the data center's storage capacity.

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis will expand its genomic data center and increase its computer data storage capacity using a $14.3 million grant the school will receive through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The grant — awarded by the NIH's National Center for Research Resources and announced today — will double the data center to 32,000 square feet. The expansion will add staffers to the roughly 300 now working at the genome center, as well as generate about 200 construction jobs.

"My expectation is that we'd see an increase of somewhere between 20 to 50 people at the Genome Center" over several years, Richard Wilson, the center's director, told GenomeWeb Daily News today.

He said the expansion will also enable the Genome Center to keep pace with the explosion in genomic data wrought by next-generation sequencing. The data center currently has about 5,000 computer processors with more than 5 petabytes of disk storage.

That capacity will increase, Wilson said, though it has not been decided how much. That answer will become known, he said, as the center assesses what new equipment comes onto the market, and what it will ultimately purchase. He said it was premature to project what that new equipment would cost, but did say it would not be a single immediate purchase. "It will take a couple of years to actually put all the gear in there," he said.

"You want to be able to respond to trends in sequencing technology development, and you want to also be able to take advantage of the trends in informatics hardware improvement and development. As we get closer to the point of actually starting to fill the building with gear, then we'll have a much better idea of which direction to go," Wilson said.

"The bottom line is, it gives us capability we know we're going to need for the next five to 10 years in terms of being able to sequence a lot more genomes, and to start to look at other diseases besides cancer and the other germline diseases we're looking at now," he added.

The Genome Center's major focus is on cancer and microbial communities at various sites on the body. The center is carrying out some initial investigation of samples of patients with metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, and visual disorders, such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration, and some cancer-related syndromes.

Construction is set to start this fall and be completed in about a year. The addition will be designed to exceed the second-highest or "gold" rating of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification system for energy-efficient "green" buildings.

The current genomic data center, completed in 2008, was built to LEED's gold rating, and was the first green building to rise on the medical school's campus.

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