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New Leukemia Research Harnesses The Power Of Big Data

<p>Leukemia isn&rsquo;t just one disease, it&rsquo;s many.</p>

National Institutes of Health


Leukemia isn’t just one disease, it’s many.

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University have released one of the largest data sets of its kind, aimed at curing leukemia.

The problem is, leukemia isn’t just one disease, it’s many. For the last 40 years, treatment has remained largely unchanged with less than 25 percent of patients surviving after five years.

So scientists from OHSU and 10 other academic centers have joined forces to compare how more than 100 different drugs affected 670 cancers — and their various genetic make-ups.

“We have some idea for a few drugs how well they work based on the genetics," said OHSU associate professor Jeff Tyner, who is one of 88 authors on this study. "But the reality is that for most drugs we actually don’t yet understand how well they work on the basis of genetics.”

“Now we have the beginnings of a framework to better understand how genetics can inform drugs that will or won’t work,” said Tyner.

The hope is that in the future doctors will be able to test a cancer for its genetic signature and know which drug to use.

But meanwhile, the problem is so complex it requires the computing strength of big data to tease out the solutions.

The chip company Intel collaborated on the effort.

Shannon McWeeney, a researcher at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, said the sheer amount of data involved posed a  question: How can it be shared in a meaningful way?

“This necessitates a new generation of scientific computing approaches and strategies to manage, integrate and visualize the data,” said McWeeney.

Her team developed a new data visualization tool called to do just that.

“Vizome allows anyone to explore these data, ask questions, and start pursuing answers,” said McWeeney.

Tyler says the next step is clinical trials in patients. So far, researchers have only looked at how drugs affected samples of cancer.

“The rubber of course meets the road when we actually test those drugs in patients in the clinic. So this study gives us the framework to prioritize which clinical trails should begin first and which drugs should be in them,” said Tyner.

“This is really the largest study to date that pairs both drug testing and genetics on primary tumor cells.”

The director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, Brian Druker, said the study is a prime example of AML research being done as part of a multi-institution collaboration.

The study was sponsored by the and is published in the latest version of the journal ‘.’

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Kristian Foden-Vencil is a reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He specializes in health care, business, politics, law and public safety.