University of Chicago to help lead national effort to make cancer research data more useful, accessible and impactful

Cancer cells and big data

The University of Chicago will help lead an $8.8 million effort to make the vast quantity of cancer research data being produced more accessible and useful to clinicians and researchers around the world. The 3½-year contract was awarded by the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research on behalf of the National Cancer Institute.

Scientists from the University of Chicago, Oregon State University, Oregon Health & Science University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Carolina will team up to create and operate the Center for Cancer Data Harmonization (CCDH).

The center will align its efforts with the National Institutes of Health’s Cancer Research Data Commons, a cloud-based initiative to store, analyze and share the nation’s cancer data. The goal is to advance treatments and give doctors information they need to provide the best care by combining and sharing the different types of data generated in cancer research and care.

“This is an incredible opportunity to build the next generation of tools and platforms for combining multiple types of cancer data — from clinical information to images to genomic data — and make the combined datasets research-ready for the community,” said principal investigator Samuel Volchenboum, MD, PhD, who also directs UChicago’s Pediatric Cancer Data Commons (PCDC). “We’re incredibly grateful and honored to help lead this important effort.”

This is an incredible opportunity to build the next generation of tools and platforms for combining multiple types of cancer data.
The PCDC harnesses pediatric cancer clinical data from around the globe into a single combined platform, connecting the data to other sources and making it available to clinicians and researchers everywhere. The experience and skills of the PCDC team, including expertise in data standards, data harmonization and commons interoperability, made UChicago an important partner for the new CCDH.

The work of the CCDH will be organized around five key areas: community development, data model harmonization, ontology and terminology ecosystem, tools and data quality, and program management. (Ontologies define relationships between concepts in a way that allows computers to do logical reasoning.)

“Our approach to this project will be one of radical inclusion, casting a wide net to engage as many varied viewpoints and needs as possible,” said Nicole Vasilevsky, PhD, a research assistant professor in the Department of Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology at Oregon Health & Science University. “We will simultaneously engage some of the world’s most talented semantic engineers to develop tools and processes for aligning and harmonizing data. We’ll develop a concierge service for any researcher, technologist or other scientist needing help understanding how to leverage, incorporate, design or use the cancer data.”

The project marks an important step in the evolution of systems that allow cancer researchers to easily share and leverage enormous amounts of connected data.

“The team gathered here is a dream team of experts in all of the areas necessary to design, build and deploy platforms in alignment with the new Cancer Data Ecosystem as envisioned by the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel,” said Melissa Haendel, PhD, who directs Oregon State University’s Translational and Integrative Sciences Laboratory.

Samuel L. Volchenboum, MD, PhD, MS

Samuel Volchenboum, MD, PhD, MS

Samuel L. Volchenboum, MD, PhD, MS, is an expert in pediatric cancers and blood disorders. He has a special interest in treating children with neuroblastoma, a tumor of the sympathetic nervous system.

Learn more about Dr. Volchenboum