Cloud Computing and Life Sciences: Two real world examples with real impact

Editor's note: Kathy Grise is Future Directions Senior Program Director, IEEE Technical Activities, at IEEE. Her guest post here brings good context to some of the very virtuous impacts cloud computing can have on us all. -bg

Cloud computing has become such a pervasive topic that it is literally all encompassing and has become an integrated daily part of each and everyone’s lives and environment. Cloud computing capabilities are enabling technologies in life science in especially important ways (by life science I mean “a branch of science (as biology, medicine, and sometimes anthropology or sociology) that deals with living organisms and life processes —usually used in plural”).

Supporting life sciences technologies with cloud computing infrastructure is resulting in many virtuous, impactful capabilities. In this post I'll review two that demonstrate this.

Commonality and convergence

Using life sciences technology, doctors can leverage the most common of medical instruments for measuring the health and diagnostics of their patient. In combination with the latest compact handheld mobile devices and cloud computing technology, a doctor can quickly measure and diagnose the patient’s health.

health1One such device provides ultrasound imaging for vascular health or general diagnostic imaging. The resulting images would be generated and if necessary be quickly and efficiently shared with specialists located anywhere in the world. Plus, this type of diagnostic tool is not invasive to the patient. The patient benefits from a breadth of expertise without the need to travel, saving invaluable time and money, and most importantly not go through any diagnostic surgery.  This type of life sciences technology could not be accomplished without the overall applications, services, and infrastructure facilitated by the “cloud.”

Another practical application of a smart phone in life sciences was developed at Stanford University that can detect and potentially prevent needless oral cancer deaths. An oral cavity scanner, called OScan, “consists of a mouth positioner, a circuit board and two rows of fluorescent-light-emitting diodes. It attaches to any smartphone’s built-in camera, and allows an operator — with a quick swipe — to take a high-resolution, panoramic image of a person’s complete mouth cavity. Illuminated by the device’s blue fluorescent light, malignant cancer lesions are easily detected as dark spots. Images can be sent wirelessly to health workers, dentists or oral surgeons for diagnosis, anywhere in the world…”

For those Star Trek fans, including myself, the future is really here. Or is our past our future? Remember Dr. McCoy with his medical tricorder? Well, it truly is amazing that the twenty first century brings us the tricorder, but in the form of a smart phone or similar handheld device.

Check out a real-life tricorder being developed today, the “Scanadu Scout,” a small handheld device. “When held to your forehead with thumb and forefinger, it can read out your “heart rate, temperature, oximetry (blood oxygen level), respiratory rate, blood pressure, stress and electrocardiography (ECG).”

Embracing technology

health2This kind of mobile diagnostic technology depends upon the technology enabled by the cloud. The doctor relies on the use of available IT and communications services through the cloud and its infrastructure.

This infrastructure offered by the cloud encompasses multiple aspects including SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, scaling, security, data protection, privacy, management, data storage, networking, etc. Unlike traditional implementations, cloud infrastructure services can be hosted across multiple distinct platforms and with different providers ---where software, hardware, network and data are “virtually” located and hopefully offer a limitless resource.

In the example of the doctor, he or she doesn’t have to be an IT specialist and can concentrate on the patient.


The examples illustrated above between life sciences and that of cloud computing is just one of many examples showing the commonality and convergence of unique, separate and distinct technologies. One can easily demonstrate other examples showing how cloud technology is common and converges with smart grid, hybrid electric vehicle, and other technologies. It is important to note that today’s technological landscape is not limited to just the experts, but is accessible to anyone, and I mean anyone. The next time you pick up your smart phone, envision yourself running a quick health check on yourself…  All accomplished via the cloud and its convergent technologies. “Make it so…

Kathy Grise is Future Directions Senior Program Director, IEEE Technical Activities, at IEEE. She works directly with IEEE volunteers, IEEE staff, and consultants in support of new initiatives and is the IEEE Staff Program Manager for the IEEE Cloud Computing Initiative, Green ICT, and the IEEE Technology Navigator. Prior to joining the IEEE staff, Ms. Grise held numerous positions at IBM and most recently was a Senior Engineering Manager for Enablement in the IBM Semiconductor Research and Development Center.


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