Dunedin Study and Duke University go the distance with REANNZ

Otago University’s Dunedin Study is known and celebrated by global public health experts for being the longest-running longitudinal study of its kind.

Otago University’s Dunedin Study is known and celebrated by global public health experts for being the longest-running longitudinal study of its kind. What’s less well-known is REANNZ’s pivotal role in connecting the latest in Dunedin Study research with analysts at Duke University - 14,000 kilometres away in North Carolina.

The Dunedin Study has followed the lives of 1,037 babies born between April 1972 and March 1973 at Queen Mary Maternity Hospital in Dunedin - since birth. The Study is now in its fifth decade and has helped shape many groundbreaking developments in public policy here and overseas.

Since mid-2018, MRI brain scans of study participants have been taken and sent for analysis to specialists at Duke University over REANNZ’s research and advanced network. The scans are giving Dunedin Study researchers insights into people's reactions to different life experiences, how parts of the brain are connected to the body's functioning, and how brain functioning is connected to ageing.

 The neuroimaging collaboration with Duke University is the latest chapter in the Dunedin Study’s long and storied history. Hundreds of study participants have so far been scanned. It’s hoped that scans can be repeated every five years. That way, researchers can find out what’s changed or stayed the same in terms of participants’ brain activity, health and wellbeing.

MRI files can be numerous - to say the least. The number of MRIs generated as part of the Dunedin Study numbers in the hundreds and comprise millions of data slices. For instance, in a single month recently, Otago and Duke Universities synchronised almost 35 million slices.

Speed and capacity is needed to get the MRI data to Duke University, post-haste. REANNZ is a critical enabler in helping make that happen. Secure daily data exchanges are initiated by Duke University, with data shuttled over REANNZ’s high-speed national backbone and offshore over the Hawaiki Cable.

Hawaiki is REANNZ’s primary international bandwidth provider. Offering up to 20Gbps connectivity to mainland USA and Australia, the cable is more than up to the task. In fact, the network as a whole is so fast that just-taken MRI data from Dunedin can arrive at Duke University’s lab in Durham, North Carolina for analysis within minutes.

Key to the seamless transfer of information is a high speed, research data propagation platform, spanning three locations - including Pacific Radiology and University of Otago in New Zealand, and Duke University’s Laboratory of NeuroGenetics.

Engineers from REANNZ were additionally involved in setting up the project’s IT infrastructure, alongside technical experts from Otago University’s ITS Infrastructure team and specialists from New Zealand eScience Infrastructure (NeSI).    

The Dunedin Study / Duke collaboration is just one example of data intensive research being undertaken by Otago University in collaboration with overseas partners. The set-up put in place for the Dunedin Study MRI work is proving useful with these other partnerships.

It’s no secret that much of modern research is characterised by the generation and use of large and complex datasets. It’s happening with the Dunedin Study and it’s happening in many other spheres of science and technology, worldwide.  

Dedicated research networks such as that run and managed by REANNZ offer fast connectivity, no packet loss, reliability and availability. Combining large collections of data with access to high speed networking paves the way for researchers like those involved with the Dunedin Study to explore new and deeper questions - for the benefit of all.

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