Big data software combs database for cancer research

New tools developed by the National Cancer Institute will allow any researcher to compare data from large collections of genomic information against thousands of drugs to find the most effective treatments for cancer, according to a study published at Cancer Research.

The software, called CellMiner, was built for use with NCI-60, the institute's massive collection of cancer cell samples used to test potential anti-cancer drugs. The free tools provide access to the 22,379 genes catalogued in the NCI-60 and to 20,503 previously analyzed chemical compounds, including 102 U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs.

"Previously you would have to hire a bioinformatics team to sort through all of the data, but these tools put the entire database at the fingertips of any researcher," Dr. Yves Pommier of the NCI's Center for Cancer Research, was quoted in an article at Science Codex. "These tools allow researchers to analyze drug responses as well as make comparisons from drug to drug and gene to gene."

CellMiner works with large sets of genomic and drug data, calculates interactions between them and identifies statistically significant correlations. It allows researchers to look at previous experiments on a drug and analyze how the drug relates to other drugs and various gene profiles.

Big data projects hold promise to find the keys to myriad health issues. For instance, researchers at The State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo are using IBM analytics software to study genetic and environmental factors that may cause multiple sclerosis symptoms to accelerate in some patients. 

In a report, the Kansas City, Mo.-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation recently called for more focus on big data to lower costs as well.

"Efficiency research on the delivery system deserves the same level of attention from federal funding as research on new treatments," the authors said.

Yet healthcare lags other industries in pursuit of big data projects, in part due to its reliance on paper records and siloes of information, a culture that Chris Belmont, CIO of New Orleans-based Ochsner Health System, recently called "retrospective and reactive."

To learn more:
- read the abstract
- here's the Science Codex article
- find CellMiner here

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