WashU researchers must persevere through myriad challenges in the quest for knowledge. Among these challenges is developing a comprehensive security plan for their data, applications, and research results. Increasingly, research sponsors require these plans as a condition of funding. Our researchers are pioneers, bringing their expertise to the frontiers of discovery, but they aren’t always also security experts. Even if they were, the security solutions they need involve enterprise-level centralized systems, and no one researcher can design that on their own. Thankfully, WashU has Craig Pohl, Senior Director of Research Infrastructure Services (RIS), and his 23-person full-stack team of engineers, developers, and user-support professionals.
Pohl started his WashU career 25 years ago, working on the Human Genome Project at WashU’s McDonnell Genome Institute (MGI) while finishing his master’s degree in electrical engineering at Southern Illinois University—Edwardsville. From there, he worked with engineers to scale the analysis by developing software and architecting novel systems for the WashU community. His background in automation and image processing empowered him to automate the throughput of DNA sequencers, allowing for large-scale data analysis.
By 2008, Pohl’s team helped make it possible to create the first full genetic sequence of a cancer patient, known as “Tumor Normal.” Tumor-normal genome sequencing was a breakthrough in cancer research, allowing a basis of comparison to identify mutations that contribute to cancer progression.
Genome sequencing led Pohl’s foray into secure storage. To secure MGI data, Pohl and colleagues built a centralized system that was secure enough to handle electronic protected health information (ePHI) and convenient for researchers. The existing isolated enclave approach was not practical for the research community. Pohl says, “the clinic was having to come to us. . . we needed to develop a centralized system that could be distributed, where the researcher manages their own data.”
Security was foundational to RIS architecture and remains at the forefront of the project. “We work closely with InfoSec, identity management, and networking, combining all of those services into a single solution that protect your data assets from top to bottom.”
Today, RIS serves thousands of researchers in the WashU community, answering questions and developing secure solutions to meet their needs. According to Pohl, “a researcher can have a simple question, and we’ll bring people together to map out what’s happening with the data from beginning to end. We can find the needle in the haystack; be more proactive than reactive.”
To learn more about the important services RIS provides, please visit www.RIS.wustl.edu.