Haonan Lu is a PhD student working on various projects at the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre. Here he tells us about ‘big data’ and what it means for the future of ovarian cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“Ovarian cancer is a heterogeneous disease. This means that the cancer behaves differently in each woman’s body. The best way to tackle the disease, then, becomes through a personalised treatment plan. Naturally, with so many differences, in so many women – this is no mean feat.
To study these differences and come up with effective, personalised treatment plans, researchers worldwide have collected masses of information about ovarian tumours. At the Ovarian Cancer Action research centre alone, we have collected molecular data for hundreds of tumours. That’s enough data to fill 30 standard laptops! There are programmes around the world collecting data but this data explosion brings challenges; what do we do with all this information? How do we process it?
The complexity and sheer volume of these data mean that, at the moment, only a small group of scientists with computing knowledge is currently able to access it. The good news is that there is progress to be made.
Researchers have already been able to classify ovarian cancer patients into four sub-groups and design corresponding therapeutics. This means that, in the lab, we now know more about how their tumours are formed and how they will respond to treatment. This is an exciting step towards more efficient treatment. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
A big challenge is how we can translate the research into clinic as soon as possible. At the moment we’re collaborating closely with clinicians and computer scientists to develop a data management platform so that one day, researchers around the world will be able to access one, centralised bank of data. It will allow scientists and clinicians to share and validate their findings on the same platform. This will change the face of research and save thousands of researchers’ man hours.
And what does this mean for the women who suffer with ovarian cancer? Well it means a future in which women get a far quicker and far more accurate diagnosis and, even better, a future in which they will have a personalised treatment plan based on the opinions of hundreds of world’s leading experts within seconds.”