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September 10, 2014

Data Tools Help Researchers Tackle Pediatric Cancer

A genomic data analysis platform being installed at the National Cancer Institute will deliver rapid analysis of billions of data points required when sequencing human DNA and other genomic data.

Translational Genomics Research (TGen) said Sept. 10 it is providing the National Cancer Institute with high performance computing and bioinformatics support along with specialized tools designed to support pediatric cancer research programs. Those efforts include personalized medicine trial for pediatric cancer patients being conducted by the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium.

As part of the research initiative, the National Cancer Institute is providing TGen with access to more than 800 sequences childhood-cancer genomes that will be used in Phoenix-based TGen’s ongoing pediatric cancer research.

Also collaborating on the pediatric cancer research effort is computer maker Dell, which is providing it Genomic Data Analysis Platform. The platform is designed to decode vast amounts of genomic data.

The National Cancer Institute said its Oncogenomics Section would attempt to use the data analysis tools to improve healthcare outcomes for children with high-risk metastatic and recurrent cancers. According to the partners, the Dell platform along with TGen’s software will enable near real-time processing of patient data about tumors and predict the most effective anti-cancer drugs for specific patients. The goal is to help oncologists deliver personalized care.

Among the planned applications of the new biomedical tools are storing the genomics data of more than 800 pediatric cancer patients in an easy-to-use database along with RNA sequencing and immunohistochemistry databases. In addition, a pair of computational servers will be used as part of precision therapy trials with the Children’s Oncology Group and the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute.

The partners said Dell’s platform and TGen’s software could reduce the time needed to perform the RNA sequencing data analysis from seven days to four hours.

Also contributing to the effort is high-performance storage specialist Terscala, which is providing its TeraOS to improve the performance of Lustre storage. The Massachusetts company’s gateways provide a direct interface for genome sequencers to Lustre storage.

The National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, is applying advanced genomic sequencing techniques to understand cancers. Among the group’s efforts is creating new therapies for tackling childhood cancers. The Cancer Institute’s Genetics Branch also is using the big data platforms as part of an effort to build a clinical gene-sequencing infrastructure that would, among other things, support precision therapy trials.

The challenges faced by cancer researchers are enormous, and there are few places sadder than a pediatric cancer ward. The research partners report that children with relapsed or refractory cancers currently have only about a 20 percent chance of survival.

Neuroblastoma, a rare cancer that strikes one in 100,000 children each year usually before the age of 5, is so deadly that it is responsible for one in seven pediatric cancer deaths. The cancer is thought to originate in the sympathetic nervous system, which controls heart rate, blood pressure and digestion, with aggressive tumors that are unique to each child.

Hence, the National Cancer Institute and its technology partners are planning a personalized medicine clinical trial investigation for pediatric cancer. The trial is based on research from a group of investigators who are developing a personalized medicine process that is intended to permit near real-time processing of information on patient tumors and prediction of best drugs for a specific patient.

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