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Canada to Establish “Big Data” Cloud-Computing Facility for Cancer Research

By BiotechDaily International staff writers
Posted on 19 May 2014
The Government of Canada announced CAD 7.3 million in funding for a collaboration—both in Canada and internationally—to develop tools that can effectively manipulate huge amounts of data to help find cures for cancer.

Recently developed technologies for genetic analysis have created almost unimaginable amounts of data, measured in petabytes. Genomic researchers are eager to analyze these data and identify genetic clues that could point to new ways to prevent or cure cancer. Such an effort, however, requires thousands of high-performance computers working in tandem, along with the yet-unavailable software tools that can coordinate such an intimidating and complex task.

Funded through Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC; Ottawa, ON, Canada) Discovery Frontiers, the new project will develop effective new computing tools, so that researchers can study genetic data from thousands of cancers to learn more about how tumors develop, and which treatments work best.

At the center of the project will be a new cloud-computing facility, the Cancer Genome Collaboratory (Ottawa, ON, Canada), capable of processing genetic profiles gathered by the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) from tumors in some 25,000 patients worldwide. The powerful new data-mining tools are expected to be available in 2015 for beta testing by selected cancer genomics and privacy researchers. The facility is planned to be opened to the wider research community in 2016. Researchers will be able to formulate questions about cancer risk, tumor growth, and drug treatments, and extract an analysis against the data.

The NSERC initiated the project with a partnership among federal granting organizations that also include Genome Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

The University of Chicago (IL, USA) is also providing critical computing resources for the project. Furthermore, a large initial donation of genomic data will come from the International Cancer Genome Consortium, and brings together researchers from some 16 jurisdictions worldwide. The International Cancer Genome Consortium is the largest worldwide coordinated effort to produce a catalog of genetic structure of cancer organisms. Its 10-year goal is to characterize the genetic materials from tumors in 500 patients for each of the major cancer types.

“Our government is making record investments in science and technology to create jobs, strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life of Canadians. Our investment in this new powerful, state of the art tool will allow Canadian and international researchers to greatly advance our understanding of the causes of cancer,” stated Ed Holder, Canadian Minister of State (Science and Technology).

“Canada and many other nations around the world have already invested tremendous resources in sequencing of thousands of cancer genomes, but until now there has been no viable long-term plan for storing the raw sequencing data in a form that can be easily accessed by the research community. The Cancer Genome ‘Collaboratory’ will open this incredibly important data set to researchers from laboratories large and small, enabling them to achieve new insights into the causes of cancer and to develop innovative new ways to diagnose and manage the disease,” noted Lincoln Stein, director, Informatics and Biocomputing Program, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, and professor, department of molecular genetics, University of Toronto (Canada).

Related Links:

International Cancer Genome Consortium
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council



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