Maximizing Data—The Future of Cancer is Now

Dr. Jill Barnholtz-Sloan, NCI’s associate director for Informatics and Data Science, examines the importance of data sharing and accessibility in advancing cancer research. In this JAMA Oncology “Viewpoint” article, Dr. Barnholtz-Sloan discusses how large-scale efforts at NCI are leading the charge, and as we continue to generate cancer data, free and open scientific data should be treated as a public good.

Over the last several years, advances in technology have produced large-scale, multidimensional data for cancer research. Cancer is now known to be many diseases, each biologically diverse and requiring its own treatment. Today, diagnoses are characterized with more complexity, beginning with the measurement of molecular features to depict the tumor and match proper treatment.

Data sharing becomes even more important as our cancer knowledge grows. Even after treatment is complete, the combination of clinical, pathology, molecular, treatment, and response data is used to generate evidence that can help other patients. However, data sets often remain siloed within individual institutions.

As Dr. Barnholtz-Sloan explains, this is where NCI helps with collaborative research nationally. In 2005, The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) was the first collective effort to generate big data for cancer. TCGA revolutionized our knowledge of cancer, generating massive amounts of data, driving key discoveries about cancer at the genomic and molecular level, and allowing for the discovery of novel drug targets affecting multiple cancer types.

Spurred by the TCGA, NCI launched multiple new data sharing efforts, with many now falling under the Cancer Research Data Commons umbrella.

What does this mean for the future? Dr. Barnholtz-Sloan states, “As technology advances for software, hardware, and cloud resources, the ecosystem will need to be continually updated to contemporary standards, making it more efficient and accessible.”

A national cancer data ecosystem, outlined originally as a Cancer MoonshotSM priority, could one day unite these valuable initiatives under a single system available nationally, advancing cancers treatments.

Read the full Viewpoint opinion article in JAMA Oncology.

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