Can Big Data Help Cure Cancer?

Excerpt:

“Curing cancer seems like something that would happen at hospitals and not in computer rooms. But applying analytics to human DNA and the DNA of cancer cells is a promising frontier of cancer research that can help patients get the best treatment for the type of cancer they have, minimize the negative impact of that treatment on them, and ultimately save lives.

“For Intel’s Bryce Olson, it’s a personal mission.

“Olson is a prostate cancer patient and global marketing director of the Health and Life Sciences Group at chipmaker Intel. Together with the Knight Cancer Center Institute at Oregon Health & Science University, Intel is the company that has been driving the Collaborative Cancer Cloud project.”

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New Breast Cancer Classification Based on Epigenetics

The gist: Breast cancer can be broken down into different subtypes that behave differently and might be treated differently. New research has shown that characteristics of DNA known as epigenetic marks can be used to categorize different subtypes of breast cancer. Tumors with different epigenetic marks might need different treatment. In the future, doctors might use epigenetic marks to identify which patients need more aggressive treatments.

“Breast cancer is the most common in women. One in nine will suffer breast cancer over their lifetime. Progress in prevention and early detection, and the use of chemotherapy after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy), have achieved significantly increase survival in this disease in the last ten years, but much remains to be done.

“The identification of patients with high-risk breast cancer is key to knowing whether a patient will require only the removal of the tumor by surgery or whether if she will need additional chemotherapy to make sure the removal of breast cancer cells. Currently, known genetic mutations and expression patterns are determined, but the puzzle of the genetics of the disease remains a large unfinished part.

“The director of the Program Epigenetics and Cancer Biology (PEBC) at Bellvitge Biomedical Research Instiute (IDIBELL), Professor of Genetics at the University of Barcelona and ICREA researcher, Manel Esteller, has established the epigenetic patterns of breast cancer and also its clinical consequences. The finding is published in the journal Molecular Oncology.

” ‘We’ve analyzed epigenetic alterations, namely the chemical signal called DNA methylation in 500 breast tumors and have compared the patterns obtained with the clinical behavior of these cancers,’ says Esteller.”


New Test Could Accurately Predict Prostate Cancer Recurrence

“Researchers have created a test that they say can predict whether a man is at high risk of prostate cancer recurrence.

“The research team, led by Prof. Robert Bristow of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and the University of Toronto, both in Canada, presented their findings at the 33rd conference of the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO33) in Vienna, Italy.

“For men with cancer confined to the prostate, surgery and precision radiotherapy are the primary treatments. However, Prof. Bristow explains that during initial treatment, whether the cancer has spread outside the prostate often goes undetected. This means the cancer will return in 30-50% of patients.”


Enlisting a Computer to Battle Cancers, One by One

“Once you decode a tumor’s genome, what’s next? Oncologists hope that IBM’s Watson will help them find drugs for patients’ particular brain cancer mix…

“When Robert B. Darnell was a graduate student in the early 1980s, he spent a year sequencing a tiny fragment of DNA. Now Dr. Darnell is an oncologist and the president of the New York Genome Center, where the DNA-sequencing machines can decode his grad-school fragment in less than a ten-thousandth of a second.”


Enlisting a Computer to Battle Cancers, One by One

“Once you decode a tumor’s genome, what’s next? Oncologists hope that IBM’s Watson will help them find drugs for patients’ particular brain cancer mix…

“When Robert B. Darnell was a graduate student in the early 1980s, he spent a year sequencing a tiny fragment of DNA. Now Dr. Darnell is an oncologist and the president of the New York Genome Center, where the DNA-sequencing machines can decode his grad-school fragment in less than a ten-thousandth of a second.”


Enlisting a Computer to Battle Cancers, One by One

“Once you decode a tumor’s genome, what’s next? Oncologists hope that IBM’s Watson will help them find drugs for patients’ particular brain cancer mix…

“When Robert B. Darnell was a graduate student in the early 1980s, he spent a year sequencing a tiny fragment of DNA. Now Dr. Darnell is an oncologist and the president of the New York Genome Center, where the DNA-sequencing machines can decode his grad-school fragment in less than a ten-thousandth of a second.”


FDA Panel Narrowly Backs DNA Colon Cancer Test

“A panel of Food and Drug Administration advisers has narrowly backed an experimental blood test that uses patients’ DNA to help screen for colon cancer.

“The FDA’s genetic experts voted 5-4, with one abstention, that the benefits of Epigenomics’ test outweigh the risks. The vote amounts to a recommendation for approval of the company’s Epi proColon kit. The FDA is not required to follow the panel’s recommendation.

“Doctors have long used stool tests to look for hidden blood that can be an early warning of cancer. Epigenomics’ test is part of a new wave of diagnostics that detect genetic markers associated with cancerous tumors.”


Faster Genetic Testing Method will Likely Transform Care for Many Patients with Breast Cancer

“When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s important to know as much about her tumour as possible to determine the best treatment. Most cases of breast cancer are sporadic, but a minority are hereditary and caused by one or more mutations in genes such as BRCA1 or BRCA2. To find such genetic mutations in newly diagnosed patients, researchers must sequence the woman’s DNA, which is generally a relatively slow process that generates results weeks or months after patients have started treatment. Next generation sequencing (NGS) is a newer method of sequencing DNA that processes large amounts of data. It’s faster and more expensive than conventional sequencing, but in recent years it has become cheaper and more widely accessible by rapid advances in computing power. With the use of NGS, which will soon become the mainstay of clinical genetics, breast cancer units will likely be able to get the results of genetic testing before patients begin their breast cancer treatment.”


Oncologists Differ Widely on Offering Cancer Gene Testing, Study Finds

“Many cancer researchers believe that cutting-edge advances in genomics will pave the way for personalized or “precision” cancer medicine for all patients in the near future. A new study by researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, however, suggest that not all doctors are ready to embrace tests that look for hundreds of DNA changes in patients’ tumor samples, while others plan to offer this type of cancer gene testing to most of their patients. The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

“The wide variation in attitudes was in part determined by physicians’ genomic confidence. Physicians who had a lot of confidence in their ability to use and explain genomic findings were more likely to want to prescribe the test and consider using test results when making treatment recommendations. Physicians with lower levels of genomic confidence were more reluctant to offer such testing. These findings are particularly interesting because the survey was carried out at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), which has a comprehensive research program that allows all consenting patients to have tumor testing that could find mutations and other DNA changes that drive their cancer. In some cases those genomic tumor profiles can provide targets for specific drugs known to be effective against particular mutations.”

Editor’s note: Cancer gene testing, or molecular testing, can be a powerful tool to help guide treatment decisions. Learn more about it.