siblings

UC Santa Cruz researchers use big data to fight cancer

SANTA CRUZ >> Until recently, if a California child with cancer failed to respond to standard therapies, doctors frequently had difficulty determining an effective next step.

Now they can match cancer therapies to individual children based on the genetic characteristics of their tumors thanks to a new Internet-based networking system being developed at UC Santa Cruz.

Monday, UC Santa Cruz announced the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine has provided $1.2 million in funding to the Genomics Institute’s California Kids Cancer Comparison project.

David Haussler, professor of biomolecular engineering and scientific director of the Genomics Institute, and research associate Theodore Goldstein, a former Apple vice president, will lead the project.

During its 18-month trial period, the California Kids Cancer Comparison will enable clinicians to sort through a much larger pool of genetic data than previously available, including tumor sequencing data from children throughout California and around the world, as well as adults.

“This is a milestone for the Genomics Institute,” Haussler said. “Although we’ve contributed a great deal in terms of data over the years, this is our first real clinical project.”

According to Haussler, institutional systems, which are isolated from one another or “siloed,” and concerns for patient privacy have hindered medical research for years.

“Most hospitals are very confidential and clinical trials generally only publish summary results,” Haussler said. “But you have to gather a large enough sample size to see patterns and make a connection.”

“We’ll be able to compare against the databases of these siloed institutions interactively and make recommendations in real time,” Haussler said.

The Web-based tool will enable patients, their advocates, clinicians and researchers to upload, analyze and communicate genomic information and associated data through MedBook, a social media platform developed by Silicon Valley veteran Goldstein. The platform that maintains privacy and security for patients’ data.

“I loved what I did in Silicon Valley,” Goldstein said. “But I decided it was time to apply my computer engineering knowledge to a higher purpose.”

The California Kids Cancer Comparison builds on the UC Santa Cruz Treehouse Childhood Cancer Project, which enables combined analysis of adult and pediatric cancer genomic data sets. Project lead Olena Morozova said tools like the California Kids Cancer Comparison signify a paradigm shift in the health industry.

“UC Santa Cruz is not a medical school, but now we are recommending treatments,” she said. “Thanks to bioinformatics, computer geeks are poised to take over the future of medicine.”

The project includes investigators from UC Irvine, UCSF and Stanford University, as well as the University of Southern California, the Pacific Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium, UC Davis, Hyundai Cancer Institute at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Children’s Hospital Philadelphia and the Translational Genomics Research Institute.

For more information, visit genomics.soe.ucsc.edu.

Originally published by Santa Cruz Sentinel

Photo: flickr