Big Data Could Improve Cancer Outcomes

Sharing genetic and clinical information from cancer patients could allow researchers to better personalize cancer treatments.

Findings from a recent paper suggest that sharing genetic information from cancer patients around the world could revolutionize cancer prevention and care.

According to the study, published in Nature Medicine, the researchers believe by using big data, increased knowledge could be gained regarding the inner components of cancer cells, which could lead to more effective personalized treatments.

"The term 'big data' refers to huge amounts of information that can be analyzed by high-performance computers to reveal patterns, trends and associations,” said researcher Mark Lawler, PhD, co-chair of the Cancer Task Team of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH). “In medical terms, this includes clinical and genomic data that is derived from patients during, for example, diagnostic testing and treatment."

GA4GH involves 400 organizations and provides a framework for sharing patient clinical and genomic data to improve patient outcomes.

Researchers said there has been an increase in clinical and genomic data since new technology enables easy profiling of tumors. However, this data is isolated rather than shared.

In order to understand how cancer evolves and changes in each person, patterns need to be identified, and researchers can only do so if there is access to genetic and clinical information.

"The aim is to create a type of 'cancer genomic internet'. Imagine if we could create a searchable cancer database that allowed doctors to match patients from different parts of the world with suitable clinical trials. This genetic matchmaking approach would allow us to develop personalized treatments for each individual's cancer, precisely targeting rogue cells and improving outcomes for patients,” Dr. Lawler concluded. "This data sharing presents logistical, technical and ethical challenges. Our paper highlights these challenges and proposes potential solutions to allow the sharing of data in a timely, responsible and effective manner. We hope this blueprint will be adopted by researchers around the world and enable a unified global approach to unlocking the value of data for enhanced patient care."