Massive cancer database to focus on personalized medicine

England is launching an extensive cancer database 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."

Breast cancer, for instance, is now believed to be at least 10 completely separate diseases, each with its own life expectancy and requiring its own treatment, explains BBC News.

The database has been in development for five years, according to The Independent, and will bring together data from tissue and tumor samples, information from breast, bowel and cervical cancer screening programs and radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment results.

"In effect every cancer patient has a rare disease that is different in some way from another cancer. This allows us to carry out refined searches to see how other tumors have responded to identify the optimum treatment as early as possible," Rashbass said in the article.

The service also will share information with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have their own registries.

In December, the U.K. announced plans to invest 100 million pounds ($160 million) to map the DNA of up to 100,000 citizens in an effort to better understand cancer and other rare diseases.

Last week, research and healthcare organizations from 41 countries announced plans to develop a framework for genomic data-sharing worldwide. At this point, each organization has its own legal, ethical and technical policies. This effort will be an attempt to standardize them to provide access to massive databases.

Technology plays a key role in making sense of giant datasets required for medical research. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have used algorithms developed by computer scientists at Brown University to assemble the most complete genetic profile yet of acute myeloid leukemia. And Harvard researchers are using a big data analytics platform to build computational models of the mechanisms involved in cell differentiation in hopes of creating better treatments.

To learn more:
- read the BBC News article
- here's the Independent story