The University of Chicago is using a $36 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to launch the Genomic Data Commons project, which aims to give researchers access to genomic information from more than 10,000 cancer patients.
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With a new system to compile and help navigate mountains of cancer data, University of Chicago health experts are aiming to bring the future of medicine a little closer.
The Genomic Data Commons project will help researchers around the country assess genetic information from more than 10,000 cancer patients, which could be used to develop more effective treatments, said Robert Grossman, a professor of medicine at U. of C. who is directing the project.
The project, funded with a $36 million National Cancer Institute grant, will "democratize" access to a data set that is now available to only the largest, most well-funded research firms, Grossman said. The information is now only available in raw form from two National Cancer Institute facilities, he said. Some calculations involving the data take a month or more for computer systems to complete, he said.
The system is expected to come online in March and will be expanded at some point, he said.
North shore University health systems has been doing this study for the past six months. I volunteered my blood. This research will be invaluable. Glad to see another hospital has joined
AT 7:33 AM DECEMBER 02, 2014
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Once the data set becomes available, better treatments will follow, said John Cunningham, a professor and the university's chief of the section of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.
"These tools will change how we practice medicine," Cunningham said.
Within five to 10 years, a doctor specializing in tumors could use data from the new system to assess more rapidly and precisely the severity of a patient's cancer, and could then prescribe medication that is tailored to the patient's genetics, Cunningham said.
"That is the aspiration," he said.
A genomic commons system already has helped pediatricians learn more about neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer with a survival rate of less than 50 percent, Cunningham said. A more complete system could help doctors identify which patients are at the most risk and help tailor their treatments, he said.
While the information is expected to help researchers, privacy advocates have raised concerns about efforts to digitize health data in recent years.
Genome-mapping projects like the one at the U. of C. carry the risk that the information could be pieced together to identify patients, said George Hripcsak, a professor and chair of Biomedical Informatics at Columbia University. Hripcsak is involved in the Observational Health Data Sciences and Informatics initiative, a project that digitizes health information for clinical use.
"The big thing is making sure we do this in a way that doesn't backfire," Hripcsak said. "Do it in a way that protects patients' privacy."
Grossman said that in the Genomic Data Commons system, names and birthdates will be removed from the information on patients, although gender and age range will be included. Grossman said any researchers who access the data will need to be cleared by the National Institutes of Health.
"No one is given access to this data unless they themselves as well as their research institution they belong to agree to use the information correctly, and part of that is agreeing not to re-identify the data," Grossman said.
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