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Big Data Lets Universities Dive Deeper into Cancer Research

Researchers at Arizona State University and the University of Chicago are bolstering cancer research with healthcare analytics.

Researchers hunting the cure for cancer are getting a big boost from Big Data.

The future of Big Data in healthcare looks more than promising. Forecasts project healthcare analytics to grow from $7 billion in 2016 to $24 billion in 2021 thanks to projects at innovative hospitals that are using Big Data to predict falls and prioritize patients, among others. But now researchers are using the tech to crack one of healthcare’s largest challenges.

ASU Leverages Big Data to Target Cancer Genetics

At Arizona State University, a research project that examines millions of spots in human DNA to find cancer-causing variations is under way. The project is part of the university’s Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative (CASI), which tasks ASU departments to use technology to create solutions for the complex problems of the world, Health Data Management reports.

Using Apache Hadoop, an open-source programming framework, the university’s research team is able to examine variations in a million DNA locations to identify “the mechanisms of cancer and how networks of genes drive cancer susceptibility and outcome,” according to the article.

“Our project facilitates use and reuse of large-scale genomics data, a challenge common to all research institutions addressing grand challenges in precision medicine,” says Jay Etchings, ASU’s director of research computing, in the article. “The Hadoop ecosystem and related data lake structure [eliminates] the need for each researcher and clinical user to manage the large complex genomic data footprint.”

Universities and Big Data: A Perfect Cancer-Fighting Team

Data-driven university research is a driving force behind the search for a cancer cure. With their large computing power, other universities have stepped up to support innovative research.

The University of Chicago has established the Genomic Data Commons, the largest open access repository of cancer data with 4.1 petabytes of data from various research programs, reports ChicagoInno.

“[Cancer researchers] want to use all available data but to set up an environment, to manage it, keep it secure and compliant — the process is just overwhelming. Our role is to bring together the large public research data sets to consistently analyze them and make it available in a digestible form to the research community to accelerate the pace of research,” says GDC’s principal investigator Robert Grossman.

Grossman says as universities collect, analyze and share data, they will get closer to understanding which combination of medications works based on the genomic signature of the tumor.

Juliet Van Wagenen contributed to this article.

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Jul 13 2017

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