Feature - Connecting the cancer community through grid technology
In the world of cancer research, “connectivity” is becoming increasingly important: laboratory and clinical information are being generated in vast quantities and at increasing rates, and using this data to improve patient outcomes requires truly interoperable informatics systems.
“The current cancer community is broken up into small and fragmented units,” says Kenneth Buetow, associate director for Bioinformatics and Information Technologies at the National Cancer Institute in the U.S.
“We need to have effective means by which we can bring the important, disparate parts of the community together so that the whole can be more than the sum of the parts.”
Linking researchers, physicians and patients
To facilitate this connectivity, the National Cancer Institute has launched the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid—caBIG—a voluntary informatics infrastructure designed to link researchers, physicians and patients, accelerate research discoveries and improve patient outcomes.
Institutions participating in caBIG are better able to collaborate thanks to the use of caBIG-compatible and interoperable software and applications, which are useful in clinical trials management, imaging, genome annotation, data sharing, common vocabularies, translational research and more, Buetow says.
caGrid: at the heart of the caBIG initiative
At the heart of the caBIG initiative is caGrid, the core infrastructure that promotes common applications, tools, information standards and data and analytical resources.
caGrid 1.1, the latest version of caGrid, was released in September 2007 and was developed using the overall open and community-based development strategy of caBIG.
“caGrid fits into caBIG by facilitating information sharing,” says Joel Saltz, whose research team led the collaborative development of caGrid.
Chair and professor of Biomedical Informatics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, as well as Davis chair of cancer in the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, Saltz says caBIG is creating a World Wide Web for cancer research.
“caGrid is the glue that links all of the caBIG-compatible tools and allows information to be shared and decision-making to be coordinated across multiple sites. It’s the interaction communication layer of caBIG.”
Saltz says progress in the fight against cancer ultimately comes down to the merging of resources and datasets.
“For example, each lab, with one or two or three principal investigators, is generally investigating a very small number of constrained hypotheses,” he says. “caBIG connects these labs so investigators can compare their results with those of other research labs around the world for validation and acceleration of discoveries.
“The cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid is an integral component of conducting more efficient, effective and collaborative cancer research moving forward,” says Saltz. “Our ultimate goal remains improved patient outcomes, which will be realized through greater interoperability within the cancer community.”
- NCI cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid Initiative