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Cloud Technology Brings the American Heart Association Precision Medicine Platform to Life

Cloud Technology Brings AHA Precision Medicine Platform to Life


The medical community generates extensive research data daily, yet it doesn’t have a centralized repository to store it. As a result, researchers often spend time and money searching for or replicating data. The American Heart Association (AHA) wanted to develop a platform to help cardiovascular researchers more easily discover data and collaborate.



Cloud Application Modernization Services from Hitachi Vantara provided a foundation for AHA’s platform. The offering’s deploy accelerator was used to implement a well-architected, secure, seven-layer virtual private cloud (VPC). And its dashboard accelerator monitors the movement and status of data at all times.


The AHA gained increased visibility and access to a variety of data, as well as better collaboration tools.

About American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke: America’s No. 1 and No. 5 killers. It teams with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases.

The Dallas-based association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke.

The platform will harness the power of big data to revolutionize the way cardiovascular research is performed and speed the promise of precision cardiovascular medicine. Hitachi Vantara cloud services were instrumental in bringing to life a rich and diverse data marketplace where researchers can work collaboratively and securely, to advance cardiovascular outcomes with the speed and precision that has not been possible until now.

– Jen Hall, PhD, Chief of the Institute of Precision Cardiovascular Medicine, American Heart Association

The AHA Precision Medicine Platform

The American Heart Association’s ambition is to vastly improve patient outcomes by providing faster access to data, state-of-the-art tools, technologies and innovations that enable sharing and discovery. The American Heart Association Precision Medicine Platform has been designed to implement that vision by including a vast array of curated, rich and distributed datasets, which are centrally accessed, searched, analyzed and shared by researchers, and securely managed in the cloud. The platform enables researchers and clinicians to aggregate and analyze a rich breadth and depth of data, including longitudinal cohorts, population studies, clinical data registries and consumer-generated data, proteomic, genomic and gene-expression data.

The AHA Precision Medicine Platform opens data and tools to all. It turns the attention to a community effort in the field of cardiovascular and stroke science, to accelerate solutions that positively impact millions of lives. The company planned to eventually eliminate its data center presence for its backup solution once migration to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud was complete.

Big Challenges

Big ideas come with big challenges, and the scope of the AHA Precision Medicine Platform is no exception. To grasp the challenge, it is important to understand that medical research data is far-reaching and plentiful. There are thousands of people, institutions and businesses that research, analyze and draw conclusions based on the data they curate. Much of the research and data is high quality, valuable and has great integrity. However, there is no single meeting place, or market place, where the research is housed and easily searchable. Therefore, researchers spend much of their time searching various datasets looking for specific information and often end up duplicating the efforts of other researchers. Cumulatively, this results in substantial loss of time, money and effort. One of the primary reasons for this challenge is that there are very few standards for curating, reporting and managing the vast amounts of research data. The result is disparate research databases and systems that contain valuable but hard-to-find information. Therefore, the American Heart Association set out to solve this problem. In doing so, they created a platform with the following:

  • Access to rich and varied sources of data.
  • Visibility and search tools to the datasets.
  • Data security, scale and collaboration.

Expert Collaboration

When the American Heart Association set out to implement its innovative Precision Medicine Platform, it did so with an understanding: The IT infrastructure businesses that it would collaborate with would be instrumental in helping the AHA achieve success. Thus, AHA chose Hitachi Vantara cloud services for expertise in helping businesses migrate and operate in the AWS Cloud (see Figure 1). AHA also selected Kass-Hout Consulting for its domain knowledge and expertise in precision medicine and consumerism.

This collaboration is exciting, not only because of the cutting- edge big data and science technology at hand, but also because the American Heart Association is on the front lines of saving people’s lives, ensuring the vital role for this project. Building a robust infrastructure for the Precision Medicine Platform became the primary goal of the experts at the American Heart Association, Hitachi Vantara cloud services, AWS and Kass-Hout Consulting.

AHA Platform Components

The platform was designed with several primary operational stages, including:

Data Collection: Data is uploaded to the platform and stored in the discovery portal. A “white glove” process is established with the data provider to ensure all data is ingested into the platform.

Harmonization: Data often comes in various formats and specifications. In the harmonization phase, Hitachi Vantara cloud services and the data provider work together to construct algorithms to transform the dataset into a consistent format and specification for the discovery portal.

Discovery: Once published, the harmonized datasets are available for search and discovery via the portal. An intricate searching and filtering capability allows researchers to find relevant datasets based on a wide variety of search criteria and data trends. The platform also unifies the process of requesting and gaining access to datasets by providing the ability to request access directly from the search page.

Custom Research Environment: Once a researcher has been granted access to a dataset, a custom environment is created in the AWS Cloud, providing a secure environment that includes a variety of popular data science tool sets. The researcher has an enhanced environment (data, tools and infrastructure) to work with.

Hitachi Vantara’s Cloud Solutions at Work

To implement the components of the AHA’s Precision Medicine Platform, the project was designed with several implementation phases and a combination of AWS Cloud Services along with Hitachi Vantara cloud services, with several open source integrations to accomplish the mission. First, a secure AWS virtual private cloud environment was created using DevOps Services from Hitachi Vantara and Cloud Application Modernization Services from Hitachi Vantara. Specific accelerators included:

  • The deployment accelerator was used to implement a well-architected, secure, seven-layer virtual private cloud. This cloud includes subnets for public and private internet traffic, internal and external load balancers, web, application and database layers, as well as a management layer. It starts with the Sophos UTM instance, which is used for a virtual private network (VPN), next-gen firewall and network address translation.
  • The deployment and test accelerators were used along with a Jenkins client, Chef Infra Server and Nessus Professional scanning to build out and test the security of the environment.
  • The dashboard accelerator was deployed to monitor the data movement and status at all times.

Second, the data platform was constructed within the secure VPC. Jupyter Notebook was implemented to write code that allows for data transformation and calibrates code to perform the copious volume of transformations and negotiations.

  • AWS Elastic MapReduce (EMR) was used so that calculations could be farmed out and executed simultaneously throughout immense datasets to enable discovery of trends.
  • Finally, data science tools were implemented to make the aggregate data available in a consistent format.
  • AWS ElasticSearch Service allows the American Heart Association to collect, visualize and gain insight into datasets.
  • The Hitachi Vantara cloud services team created a highly customized Kibana solution, to provide a powerful and scalable search and discovery tool for the user.
  • The underlying infrastructure was designed and architected to be Health Insurance Portability Accountablity Act (HIPAA) compliant with controls for additional scalability for adoption of Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) and Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) controls, downstream.
  • The team facilitated the environment to create a unique and automated pipeline, which enables a customized research and AWS Workspace environment. This solution allows researchers to have their own private cloud environment and custom pipeline. It not only facilitates their work, but also allows data to be supplemented by future researchers, compounding the value to the community.
  • Through the unique cloud-based infrastructure on AWS that Hitachi Vantara cloud services designed and engineered, the Precision Medicine Platform will enable increased collaboration among the research community. The result will be better accelerated discoveries for both heart disease and stroke patients. Additionally, the flexibility and agility the platform provides to the research community also enables scientists to amalgamate research, identify trends and provide real-time solutions, based on empirical data.

The result was a comprehensive, turnkey solution for genomics that adds agility and flexibility to genomics research on AWS Cloud at a monthly subscription model.

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