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Big data challenge to cancer mutations


Toronto, ON – Cancer research leaders from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), in collaboration with Sage Bionetworks and IBM’s DREAM, have announced the launch of the ICGC-TCGA-DREAM Somatic Mutation Calling Challenge.

Like previous DREAM Challenges in the series, this new Challenge will engage a diverse community of scientists to solve a specific problem in a given time period by placing scientific data, tools, scoreboards and the resulting predictive models into an open commons.

The specific problem the SMC Challenge will address is the need for accurate methods to identify cancer-associated mutations from whole-genome sequencing data. Cancer is a disease of the genome, caused by disruptions in DNA that alter specific gene functions. Although today’s DNA sequencing instruments can amass great quantities of sequence data from a patient’s normal and tumour tissues, the ability to identify DNA mutations and rearrangements accurately on the basis of those data remains elusive; current studies agree in only about 20% of their predictions.

To address this need, the Challenge will post the raw DNA sequencing data of 10 human tumour-normal pairs (5 prostate, 5 pancreatic), comprising approximately 9 terabytes of data to a high-speed distribution server. Contestants will have 6 months to optimize their predictive models. After the Challenge closes in July, 2014, at least 5000 DNA candidate mutations predicted by different participating teams will be prospectively validated on an independent sequencing platform by the Challenge organizers. The accuracy of participants’ predictions will be ranked using the newly generated validation data based on sensitivity, specificity and balanced accuracy amongst other metrics.

“Governments around the world have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to sequence cancer genomes to find new drug targets and to develop treatments that are personalized to each person’s cancer genome”, says Professor Paul Boutros, Canadian OICR researcher and Challenge organizer. “But realizing these goals is currently blocked by scientists’ inability to identify mutations in cancer genomes. It is really tremendous that ICGC and TCGA are coming together with Sage Bionetworks and DREAM to address this problem using a DREAM Challenge that will set a gold standard that groups around the world can use to understand the cancer genome!”

Some industrial partners are supporting the effort. For example, Google is making their cloud platform available to OICR-approved participants, Hitachi has provided free storage to host the data, Annai Systems is providing a data management platform and its software will provide high-speed data transfer to participants.

More information is available on the Challenge website at https://www.synapse.org/#!Challenges:DREAM) at the Sixth Annual RECOMB/ISCB conference (http://www.iscb.org/recomb-regsysgen2013.