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CanSAR cancer database to use artificial intelligence to discover cancer treatments

Friday, November 15, 2013

A new cancer database containing 1.7 billion experimental results will utilize artificial intelligence—similar to the technology used to predict the weather—to discover the cancer treatments of the future.

The system, called CanSAR, is the biggest disease database of its kind anywhere in the world and condenses more data than would be generated by one million years of use of the Hubble space telescope.

It has been developed by researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, using funding from Cancer Research U.K.

The new CanSAR database is more than double the size of a previous version and has been designed to cope with a huge expansion of data on cancer brought about by advances in DNA sequencing and other technologies.

The resource is being made freely available by The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and Cancer Research U.K., and will help researchers worldwide make use of vast quantities of data, including data from patients, clinical trials and genetic, biochemical and pharmacological research.

Although the prototype of CanSAR was on a much smaller scale, it attracted 26,000 unique users in more than 70 countries around the world and earlier this year was used to identify 46 potentially “druggable” cancer proteins that previously had been overlooked.

The new database will drive further dramatic advances in drug discovery by allowing researchers access to, and the ability to interact with, unprecedented amounts of multidisciplinary data in seconds.

CanSAR now contains more than eight million experimentally derived measurements, nearly one million biologically active chemical compounds and data from over one thousand cancer cell lines. It also contains drug target information from the human genome and model organisms. Research that previously had taken months to complete now will take only minutes.

Dr. Bissan Al-Lazikani, team leader in computational biology and chemogenomics at the ICR, said, “CanSAR uses artificial intelligence, like that used in weather forecasts, to predict which potential drugs are likely to work in which circumstances. The database is capable of extraordinarily complex virtual experiments drawing on information from patients, genetics, chemistry and other laboratory research. It can spot opportunities for future cancer treatments that no human eye could be expected to see.”

Nell Barrie, Cancer Research U.K.’s senior science information manager, said, “Research into cancer relies on international collaboration, and the CanSAR database makes it easy for scientists around the world to tap into huge amounts of information—from the lab and the clinic—to fuel new discoveries. The clues we need to tackle cancer are hidden in data like this, and by making it freely available we can boost our progress and make breakthroughs sooner.”

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