How uMotif drives medical research using AWS, boosting quality of data from clinical trials


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We had 5,000 people register to join the clinical study in the first seven days, and we scaled the AWS infrastructure accordingly, no problem. In total, 13,500 people participated."

Bruce Hellman
Chief Executive Officer, uMotif

The Challenge

Tackling the challenges of clinical studies

Speak to Bruce Hellman—CEO of uMotif in the United Kingdom—and he can tell you how data capture has often been a challenge in clinical studies. Hellman, who has a background in management consultancy, became interested in clinical-data capture after he began tracking his own sleeping patterns. His first son had just been born and Hellman was sleeping badly. He decided to record how long he slept each night and correlate that with the state of his overall health.

As a result of this informal study, Hellman became interested in official clinical studies and how they captured participant data. “Studies often depended on patients recording their experiences in paper-based diaries,” he says. “Yet patients regularly neglected these diaries. They struggled to remember how they felt on any given day, and this reduced the quality of the data.”

With this insight, Hellman cofounded uMotif, believing improvements in data capture were possible by designing technology that patients would find easy to use.

Using a combination of personal devices—such as a smartphone or a tablet—and cloud services, researchers could capture enormous quantities of accurate data from study participants.

uMotif created a prototype platform to capture patient data. Marcin Wiatr, lead architect at uMotif, and his team designed software to make it easy for patients to input their data on mobile devices, and they set up a couple of cloud servers and a data-sync engine to connect the servers to patient devices.

Why Amazon Web Services

A highly scalable solution

The first uMotif-backed study began in 2012, involving 36 patients with Parkinson’s disease. The study lasted two months and tracked the effect of different medications on treating the disease. Based on the quality of the study data and the positive feedback from patients, who said they liked using an app to record their data, Hellman looked to officially launch uMotif.

The company began looking for a cloud-service provider that could scale for large-volume clinical studies. uMotif also wanted a provider that could help it comply with regulations on healthcare data.

uMotif needed to comply with the NHS Information Governance in the United Kingdom, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States, and key research regulations including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 21 CFR Part 11 and Good Clinical Practice. Wiatr says, “There was only one company that could fully meet uMotif’s requirements—Amazon Web Services (AWS).”

Delivering new medical insight

With AWS cloud services at the heart of the data-capture process, researchers working with uMotif are gaining highly accurate findings. For example, with the support of uMotif, Manchester University in the United Kingdom ran a research program called “Cloudy with a Chance of Pain” to study the effect weather has on people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain.

uMotif built its backend infrastructure on AWS and patients used the uMotif app on their tablets and smartphones to record their experiences.

“We had 5,000 people register to join the clinical study in the first seven days and we scaled the AWS infrastructure accordingly, no problem. In total, 13,500 people participated,” says Hellman.

During the research, the uMotif application running on AWS infrastructure captured 38 million data points relating to the research. Of those data points, over five million recorded rheumatoid arthritis and pain–related symptoms.

Some eight-and-a-half million recorded the GPS locations of participants, so researchers could study the weather conditions at the location where people registered their symptoms. The results of the study are expected toward the end of 2017, at which time the university will assess the accuracy of the belief that weather affects arthritic pain.

Hellman says, “Our work with Manchester University demonstrated that we could successfully support large-scale medical studies with our AWS solution.”

Today, uMotif uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances along with Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), which stores data from patients taking part in the research.

For security, the AWS infrastructure behind each research program sits inside an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) and access to the data is controlled by AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM).

Other AWS services come into play when the research programs are ongoing. These include Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS) and Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES), which are used to communicate with patients. The IT team also uses Amazon CloudWatch to monitor the performance of the AWS infrastructure. More recently, the team has used AWS Lambda to spin up Amazon DynamoDB databases on the fly during development.

The Benefits

Driving growth in the United States

Through its work with AWS, uMotif is now supporting clinical studies in the United States. “uMotif can take advantage of the huge potential that the United States offers, because AWS is compliant with the rules protecting patient data, such as HIPAA,” Hellman says.

“Taking advantage of AWS also made it financially viable for us to break into the U.S. market. It helped us save at least a couple of months in setting up our service, because we were able to replicate our AWS backend infrastructure that we use in the United Kingdom.”

Saves thousands of dollars a month with managed services

To reduce its operating costs, uMotif is now using Amazon RDS as a managed service. Wiatr says, “We save thousands of dollars a month through AWS, because we don’t have to maintain our database, or manage data replication or server scalability. For any company, but particularly for a young company, this kind of saving is crucial.”

Likewise, the reliability of AWS and the hours of management time it saves Wiatr are worth a lot to uMotif. He says, “I can focus on developing our solutions to improve clinical studies and explore innovative new technologies such as Machine Learning or Amazon Lex, with AWS taking care of much of our infrastructure needs. It’s a win-win situation.”

About uMotif

Using AWS, uMotif facilitates medical research by improving the quality of data captured during clinical studies. The company’s software makes it easy for patients to record their experiences during a study, using mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. The data is then regularly synced to a cloud-based, backend infrastructure running on the AWS Cloud.

AWS Services Used

Amazon VPC

Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) lets you provision a logically isolated section of the AWS Cloud where you can launch AWS resources in a virtual network that you define.

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AWS Identity and Access Management

AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) enables you to manage access to AWS services and resources securely.

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Amazon CloudWatch

Amazon CloudWatch is a monitoring and observability service built for DevOps engineers, developers, site reliability engineers (SREs), and IT managers.

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Amazon SNS

Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS) is a highly available, durable, secure, fully managed pub/sub messaging service that enables you to decouple microservices, distributed systems, and serverless applications.

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