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Big data collaboration to further OICR’s research capabilities


Portland, OR – The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) is joining a pioneering big data management platform called the Collaborative Cancer Cloud along with Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Intel Corporation. A distributed precision medicine analytics platform, the cancer cloud leverages Intel’s technology to share and analyze their collectively large amounts of data securely, while preserving the privacy and security of patient data at each site.

The cancer cloud’s goal is to enable solutions that make it easier, faster and more affordable for developers, researchers and clinicians to determine how hundreds, even thousands of genes interact to drive disease in individual patients. It is designed to scale to huge volumes of data and allows for secure, aggregated computation across distributed sites without loss of local control of the data, ensuring an institution’s ability to maintain proper custody of its datasets and protecting patient privacy and any institutional intellectual property that may result.

Engineers and scientists have come together to form a dynamic, new type of team that is developing novel hardware and software technologies optimized for current precision medicine analytics but engineered for longevity – with inherent flexibility to work with future computer platforms, data standards and analytics solutions.

The cancer cloud’s special technical capabilities are what attracted the OICR to join the collaboration.

“To understand the causes of cancer and to develop more effective methods of prevention, detection and treatment, cancer researchers need access to rich molecular and clinical data sets,” said Lincoln Stein, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Informatics and Bio-computing program at the OICR, and professor, department of molecular genetics at the University of Toronto. “However the information is often siloed and unmanageably large, rendering it effectively inaccessible. Projects like the Collaborative Cancer Cloud overcome the barriers to working with these data sets by allowing multiple institutions to pool their data and to provide researchers with the computer power needed to work on the data remotely. We’re very eager to begin collaborative cancer research with these other leading institutions.” Stein works in conjunction with Paul Boutros, Ph.D., OICR principal investigator and lead for the cloud project.

OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Ontario Institute for Cancer Research together with Intel say they believe that to better understand complex diseases like cancer, the medical and technology industries must collaborate to make the growing wealth of insights from analyzing public and private genetic datasets accessible for the patient’s benefit. 

The expansion of this shareable cancer-treatment knowledge base promises to help advance cancer research and contribute to improved outcomes for patients around the world.

“The entire research community can benefit from insights revealed in large data cohorts,” said Brian Druker, M.D., director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. “By securely sharing clinical and research data among institutions, while maintaining patient privacy, our goal is to turn a process that’s agonizing and uncertain for countless patients into a highly tailored, one-day diagnosis and treatment recommendation.”

Together with Intel Corporation, the three cancer institutions will initially focus on developing genomic pilot projects based on leading industry-standard tools. They will identify novel analytics approaches using machine learning techniques against a collective set of molecular and imaging data in order to support big data analytics in a federated, aligned environment. 

“The end goal is to empower researchers and doctors to help patients receive a diagnosis based on their genome and arm clinicians with the data needed for a targeted treatment plan. By 2020, we envision this happening in 24 hours,” said Eric Dishman, vice president and general manager, Health and Life Sciences Group, Intel. “We are honoured to bring Intel technology to the Collaborative Cancer Cloud and advance the processing, storage, networking, data security and advanced analytics necessary to push the boundaries of precision medicine and bring us closer than ever to truly making care personal.”  

Long term, the plan is to open the platform to dozens of other institutions, accelerating the ability of clinicians and researchers around the world to understand the root causes of cancer and develop targeted, molecular treatments. In the future, these underlying technologies may be applied to cardiovascular diseases and neurological disorders, among others, to accelerate scientific discovery, yield new insights and inform treatment plans. A long-term goal of the collaboration is to reduce “big data” barriers and help make precision medicine widely available to patients.

More information on the cloud is available here.