The government of Canada has announced $7.3 million in funding for collaboration, both in Canada and internationally, to develop tools that can effectively manipulate vast amounts of data to help find cures for cancer.
Current advanced technologies for genetic analysis have created almost unimaginable amounts of data, measured in "petabytes"—a petabyte equals one million billion bytes. Genomic researchers want 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 a daunting and complex exercise.
Funded through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)'s Discovery Frontiers, the project will develop powerful new computing tools, so researchers can analyze genetic data from thousands of cancers to learn more about how cancers develop and which treatments work best. At the heart of the project will be a new cloud computing facility, the Cancer Genome Collaboratory, capable of processing genetic profiles collected by the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) from cancers in some 25,000 patients around the world.
The powerful new data-mining tools are expected to be available in 2015 for beta testing by selected cancer genomics and privacy researchers. Plans call for the facility to be open to the broader 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.
NSERC initiated 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 also is providing key computing resources for the project. In addition, a large initial donation of genomic data will come from the International Cancer Genome Consortium, which is based in Toronto and brings together researchers from 16 jurisdictions around the world.