DoD to use data mining for $45 million cancer research project

The U.S. Department of Defense is set to launch a $45 million data mining project for researching cancer, according to a recent solicitation by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The project will be made possible through Big Mechanism, a "casual, explanatory model of [a] complicated system in which interactions have important casual effects." The Big Mechanism program develops technology to read research abstracts and papers to extract fragments and assemble them into models used to produce explanation. In this program, the domain will be cancer biology with an emphasis on signaling pathways.

The DARPA solicitation seeks researchers from universities, government and private industry to propose how to build the mechanism and how to weave data mining into current research.

By the final year of the project, DARPA documents show, mechanism developers should be able to identify targets for cancer treatment therapy based on their findings in the data.

Last summer in the U.K., an extensive cancer database was launched, tracking all 350,000 new tumors detected each year as well as 11 million historical records going back as far as 30 years, in an attempt to advance personalized medicine.

Jem Rashbass, national director of disease registration at Public Health England, said it would be "the most comprehensive, detailed and rich clinical dataset on cancer patients anywhere in the world."

Technology plays a key role in making sense of giant datasets required for medical research. Last spring, it was reported that researchers at Washington University in St. Louis had used algorithms developed by computer scientists at Brown University to assemble the most complete genetic profile yet of acute myeloid leukemia.

And in 2012, it was announced that new tools developed by the National Cancer Institute would allow any researcher to compare data from large collections of genomic information against thousands of drugs to find the most effective treatments for cancer.

To learn more:
- see the solicitation by DARPA

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