Data storage and sharing is pivotal in research to optimize collaboration and efficiency between internal teams and external partners. With the increasing amount of data being generated in research today, local server-based storage solutions no longer meet the needs of diverse, multi-center teams. Medgadget previously reported on how cloud-based file hosting through Dropbox is already being used in rare disease research. Today, the Gladstone Institutes, an award-winning biomedical research organization based in San Francisco, CA, is leveraging Dropbox to breakthrough studies on stem cells and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease and HIV/AIDS. To understand the growing need for IT solutions like Dropbox at research organizations, and to hear about Gladstone’s transition to Dropbox, we sat down with Gladstone’s Chief Information Officer, Dr. Scott Pegg, PhD.
Mike Batista, Medgadget: Tell us a little about your background and role at Gladstone.
Dr. Scott Pegg: My background is a little bit unusual when it comes to Chief Information Officers (CIOs). I was originally trained as a scientist and have been at the intersection of biology and computer science since I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley followed by a PhD in computational biology from UC San Francisco. After academia, I went to industry for a decade where I played a very hands-on role growing businesses and taking some public before coming to the Gladstone Institutes where I’ve been for 18 months now. One of the reasons I’m here is that I speak science but I know all the technical pieces. This allows me to partner with our scientists at a basic level to understand what they want to do before bringing in the technology to make it happen.
Medgadget: Gladstone’s mission focuses on overcoming major unsolved diseases. What are some recent highlights from the work going on at Gladstone today?
Dr. Pegg: At Gladstone, we have three main institutes, one for infectious diseases, one for neurological diseases, and one for cardiac diseases. We’ve recently had some great successes in our cardiac disease work using stem cells. One of our labs was able to take scar tissue generated by a heart attack, which the body is unable to repair on its own, and reprogram it back into healthy heart muscle cells. This is a great step forward for regenerative medicine and the path towards finding better treatments for heart failure.
Medgadget: What current solutions, strategies, or tools have been historically used to facilitate collaboration within and outside of Gladstone?
Dr. Pegg: Our labs historically used email, which was unwieldy and inefficient, some “MacGyvered” sites that were not full-fledged solutions, and an internally developed product that was not very good and was actually shut down towards the end of last year. What we found was that our labs were naturally migrating to tools like Dropbox because what we had in place was so bad!
Medgadget: How did you find out that Dropbox could be used to solve some of the collaboration challenges you faced and how was the adoption process?
Dr. Pegg: It all came about through the realization that there was an existing platform in place for collaboration that our teams were already using. A large fraction of the individuals in our labs were already using Dropbox or were using it on a personal level. Due to the intuitive nature of the platform and the existing familiarity the people in our labs had with it, there was almost no learning curve. We have yet to have someone come to IT because they had any issues learning or using Dropbox.
Medgadget: How do teams at Gladstone use Dropbox today to improve collaboration?
Dr. Pegg: One of the great things about Dropbox is that we can use it for collaboration at every level. We might have just two people working on a document that they can share through Dropbox or larger teams including individuals both within and outside of Gladstone accessing and sharing files with each other. For each of these levels of granularity, there’s a sharing solution that Dropbox provides. Even in a situation where someone, who might be working in a collaborating lab, does not have a Dropbox account, URL links that open in a browser still allow access and sharing.
Medgadget: Any specific use cases where Dropbox has been able to show significant improvement in how your teams work and collaborate?
Dr. Pegg: The most fun example comes from our very active histology and microscopy core. Those groups generate and receive a lot of images from partners like the UC San Francisco tissue culture center, which is across town. Previously, we were sharing data sets by literally having bicycle couriers move hard drives from facility to facility. Luckily, Dropbox has alleviated that previously very manual, tedious process.
Medgadget: Are there other opportunities or ways in which Gladstone sees itself working with Dropbox in the future?
Dr. Pegg: Today, we use Dropbox to store and manage many smaller data sets, however, we sometimes have very big data sets on the order of 10TB. Gladstone uses a traditional model of server storage and breaking these files up into separate, smaller Dropbox accounts to deal with these files currently. We want to eventually scale the way we are using Dropbox to accommodate the size and needs of modern science data sets.
With that 10TB data set example, it would be great to have a way to create transient repositories for this significantly larger file. We are beginning to talk to Dropbox about what a slightly different product would look like to address the needs of these data sets that exist today. Gladstone has a great relationship with Dropbox and we are excited to see the direction they are taking their product.
Medgadget: How do you foresee the role of IT solutions like Dropbox changing or evolving?
Dr. Pegg: It goes back to the challenges of having more data than we did ten years ago. Pretty much all the research institutes are running into the same problem. Take, for example, robotics and instrumentation which are moving forward quickly into the realm of biotechnology. At Gladstone we have multiple robotic microscopes that can each generate 5TB of data per day. In biology, that amount of data is a new thing and the result is thinking more about the data lifecycle of how you manage, triage, and store all this information.