Researchers at the University of Southern California are working with CancerBase, Stanford University and social media companies to create a global cancer map. (Illustration/Yang Liu)

Creating a Global Map of Cancer

Jun 29, 2016 · 3 min read

The University of Southern California is answering the White House’s call for a concerted effort to break down the barriers that have hindered advancements in cancer research and treatment development.

I and hundreds of others who care about advancing cancer care are taking part this week in the National Cancer Moonshot Summit led by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, to discuss solutions that will broaden our understanding of the disease and improve outcomes for patients.

Although news of a cancer-related discovery occurs almost daily, we face significant barriers in research that hinder our progress. Among them is a lack of timely information. U.S. institutions amass vast amounts of cancer data, but we often do not see analysis of their results until years later. This frustrates patients with a current cancer diagnosis who are seeking timely information about their disease.

To address this barrier, researchers from my lab and five students at the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy are volunteering with Stanford University and social media companies on the new “CancerBase” initiative to create a global disease map of cancer. CancerBase is a grassroots collaboration of patients, scientists and social media volunteers that will enable us, in real time, to gather basic data from cancer patients, via social media, with their identities kept anonymous. Their responses will provide the basis of the disease map and may help patients learn about the optimal treatment options for their diagnosis. (Join the conversation on Twitter@cancerbase.)

CancerBase will add structured data and knowledge to the existing cancer research. The ultimate goal is to connect it to validated research data that help us understand progression patterns in cancer. To that end, USC also is announcing the first global collaboration to work with the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute. Our research teams here will work with those of professor Caroline Dive in Manchester to build and operate identical laboratories to share research data and experimental procedures in real time.

In addition, the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center is hosting a satellite Cancer Moonshot summit today at the Keck School of Medicine at USC.

USC Provost Michael Quick considers cancer one of the “wicked problems” of our time — those that are the most intractable and that require multiple approaches to understand. The university has been a pioneering leader in cancer research for decades.

Our institution is home to one of the oldest and largest cancer surveillance programs in the world that is administered by the Keck School of Medicine at USC and the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. In addition, the new USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience is dedicated to fast-tracking detection and cures for diseases through quantitative sciences from math to computer science.

At USC, we are building new bridges across the university that will increase our understanding of cancer so that we may find a cure.

The writer is Peter Kuhn, dean’s professor of biological sciences, engineering and medicine for the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the Keck School of Medicine, Viterbi School of Engineering and the Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience.

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