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From: Ihejirika, Maudlyne
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In town to address the world’s largest gathering of cancer doctors about the White House National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, Vice President Joe Biden first stopped at the University of Chicago to unveil a groundbreaking new national cancer database being housed there.

Funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and designed by the South Side university, the Genomic Data Common (GDC), is expected to eventually serve as a one-stop repository for clinical cancer data — including that arising from the most limited clinical trials — making it easier for researchers and doctors to tailor new patient treatments.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am about this,” said Biden, who leads the Moonshot initiative to eliminate cancer announced by President Barack Obama in this year’s State of the Union Address. The initiative is propelling a comprehensive, research-unifying approach to accelerate the discovery of new cancer treatments.

Housed at the Center for Data Intensive Science on the U of C campus, the GDC initially has stored genomic and clinical data for 12,000 patients. Accessible to researchers and physicians, the next-generation platform is designed to increase their sharing of information about the gene sequences of tumors and how patients with those tumors respond to specific treatments.

“If I sound emotional about this, I am," said Biden, whose son Beau Biden died of brain cancer last year at age 46. “This is good news for the fight against cancer. It will critically speed development of life saving treatment for patients.”

During a one-hour tour of the center, Biden was shepherded by U of C Professor of Medicine and GDC Principal Investigator Robert Grossman, director of the state-of-the art center.

As Biden moved through the center filled with computers and walls of digital projections, various U of C researchers shared their work. Researchers Barbara Stranger and Piers Nash explained efforts to improve diagnosis of cancer using molecular subtypes. Researchers Susan Cohn and Zhenyu Zhang discussed efforts to identify molecular subtypes that differentially respond to cancer drugs. And researchers Ken Onel and Jeremiah Savage discussed efforts to identify cancer's hereditary influences.

By enabling unprecedented data access, analysis and sharing of genomic and clinical data, GDC will be a sure catalyst in the fight to find a cure, Grossman said.

“Today, making discoveries from cancer genomic data is challenging because diverse research groups analyze different cancer datasets using various methods that are not easily comparable,” the researcher said. “The Genomic Data Commons brings together genomic datasets and analyzes the data using a common set of methods so that researchers may more easily make discoveries, and, in this sense, democratizes the analysis of large cancer genomic datasets.”
Development of the GDC began in 2014, with researchers spending the last two years creating an innovative suite of tools, software and infrastructure to curate the massive amounts of data. While such data previously has been gathered in NCI-funded research, disparate collection and analysis approaches — and siloing in multiple locations under proprietary management — were just some of the barriers preventing researchers from making full use of it, officials said.

Biden says the complex disease is among today's top global challenges.

“I was recently in the Middle East, talking about ISIS, and every leader I met with in every country, the first thing they said to me was, ‘Mr. Vice President, can I talk to you about your Moonshot Initiative?’ Biden said.

“And we recently had 50 world leaders, heads of state, at the White House for the nuclear summit. Before the president began, he had to say, ‘I know all of you want to speak to Joe about cancer. But we can do that after,'" Biden added. "We desperately need the American people to fund this in a big way.”

Maudlyne Ihejirika, Chicago Sun-Times



Maudlyne Ihejirika

Reporter, Urban Affairs | Editorial


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