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Federal Government investment to encourage genetics cancer research

New “big data” software tools to support advanced cancer research

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Current advanced technologies for genetic analysis have created almost unimaginable amounts of data, measured in “petabytes” – a petabyte is a million billion bytes. Genomic researchers are keen 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.

The Government of Canada today announced $7.3 million in funding for an unprecedented collaboration – both in Canada and internationally – to develop tools that can effectively manipulate vast amounts of data to help find cures for cancer.

Funded through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)’s Discovery Frontiers, the project will develop powerful new computing tools, so that 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. The facility is planned to be opened to the broader research community in 2016. Researchers will be able to formulate questions about cancer risk, tumour growth, and drug treatments, and extract an analysis against the data.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) initiated an unprecedented partnership among federal granting organizations that also include Genome Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

“Our government is making record investments in science and technology to create jobs, strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life of Canadians. Our investment in this new powerful, state of the art tool will allow Canadian and international researchers to greatly advance our understanding of the causes of cancer,” said Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology).

The University of Chicago is also 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 some 16 jurisdictions around the world.

“The ability to manage and analyze large volumes of data is transforming how we do research and opening new opportunities across a broad range of fields. NSERC and its partners – the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Genome Canada, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation – are working together to bring expertise from across science, engineering, health and genomics to advance unique tools that will increase our research capacity. In this project, I would also like to recognize the valuable support provided by the University of Chicago,” said Janet Walden, Chief Operating Officer, NSERC.

“This project is a prime example of Canada’s international leadership in genomics research. Through sustained federal investment and extensive partnership, nationally and internationally, Canada is in a position to produce the genomics-based tools, knowledge and discoveries needed to prevent and cure cancer,” added Dr. Pierre Meulien, President and CEO, Genome Canada.

The International Cancer Genome Consortium is the largest worldwide coordinated effort to produce a catalog of genetic structure of cancer organisms. Its 10-year goal is to characterize the genetic materials from tumours in 500 patients for each of the major cancer types.
“Canada and many other nations around the world have already invested tremendous resources in sequencing of thousands of cancer genomes, but until now there has been no viable long-term plan for storing the raw sequencing data in a form that can be easily accessed by the research community. The Cancer Genome Collaboratory will open this incredibly important data set to researchers from laboratories large and small, enabling them to achieve new insights into the causes of cancer and to develop innovative new ways to diagnose and manage the disease,” said Dr. Lincoln Stein, Director, Informatics and Bio-computing Program, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, and Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto.

Project Funding

Government of Canada Funding

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC): $3.1M
Genome Canada (through the Ontario Genomics Institute): $2.0M
Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI): $1.3M
Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR): $0.9M

Total: $7.3M

Partner In-kind funding:

University of Chicago: $0.5M

For additional information visit: http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/Professors-Professeurs/Grants-Subs/DF-FD_en...