Honing the tools to identify clues to surviving cancer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Why do some individuals survive cancer while others with the same cancer succumb to their disease? A key to survival is buried deep within the individual's biological makeup.

Researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute for Health Care are developing the tools that may bring scientists closer to identifying that key through a grant of $7.4 million from the National Cancer Institute.

Drawing upon their long-established expertise in medical informatics, they will develop, organize and test secure databases with unidentifiable data which in the future will allow scientists to review, compare and contrast the pathology reports and the DNA and protein content of stored tissues from all Indianapolis hospitals.

Building this 'machinery' and organizing the data is a challenging task that involves developing a natural language process, eliminating duplications, instituting standardization, and 'scrubbing' the data to eliminate person and place identifiers, according to Clement McDonald, M.D., the study's principal investigator and a internationally known medical informatics pioneer.

When the five-year project is completed, Dr. McDonald hopes to have a tool that will allow other researchers to compare DNA, proteins, and other biological factors to determine differences between the same tissue with and without cancer, those tissues with primary cancers and metastiasis, and the differing effects of therapy. Dr. McDonald is distinguished professor and Regenstrief professor of health services research at the IU School of Medicine and director of the Regenstrief Institute for Health Care.

The new study will draw upon data from as many as 1.6 million pathology reports and six million tissue blocks from Indiana University Hospital, Riley Hospital for Children, Methodist Hospital (which together comprise Clarian Health), Community

Contact: Cindy Fox Aisen
Indiana University

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