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Big Data Core helps Research and Care make meaningful use of data

For years now, pediatric oncology has paid a great deal of attention to collecting data on the tumor tissue of patients. All this data helps us understand how (combinations of) DNA abnormalities can lead to certain forms of childhood cancer. But how do you manage and access this ever-growing amount of data in a smart way? Patrick Kemmeren and his group came up with the solution: the Big Data Core.

Bioinformatics is about analyzing data from tumor material. Abnormalities in tumor tissue provide information about which processes are active in the cell and how the tumor affects them. In this way you can find leads for the use of targeted medication. Patrick says, “In order to be able to take steps in research, diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancer, smart handling of large amounts of data is an absolute must.”

From data to knowledge
The Princess Máxima Center has a wealth of information available in the form of tumor tissue in the biobank. And we have a great deal of data on diagnoses, treatments and their outcomes. Patrick says, “If we use all this data in a meaningful way – that is, taking the crucial step from data to knowledge – we will learn more about how various forms of childhood cancer originate and develop. The idea is that in the end you can use a much more focused therapy that specifically targets certain abnormalities.”

Facilitating role
The Big Data Core (BDC) was set up to properly organize the management and use of all data. Patrick says, “Working with data is very much in line with the Máxima’s ambition to play a pioneering role.” In addition to the efforts in the field of IT capacity – both in terms of computing power and data storage – the BDC will also play a facilitating role for Research and Care, part of which is the so-called data stewardship. Before data is stored in a meaningful way and made accessible according to the FAIR principles (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable), a great deal of human effort is required. Data must be collected, maintained, processed, shared, linked and so on. A data steward makes sure this all goes well, Patrick explains. 

Targeted data supply
The supporting role of the BDC goes both ways, he continues. “Research groups that want to work with data, for example from the biobank, can request it and we immediately provide the data analyses as well. This can significantly speed up preclinical research in particular. But it also works for Care. We can provide information about DNA abnormalities in tumor DNA to the diagnostic lab in a targeted manner. Using analyses on the primary data, we compile a list of potential abnormalities. At a tumor board meeting, this information can then be translated into a treatment proposal that is as precise as possible.”

Increasingly faster calculation
You can take the word “big” very literally, Patrick concludes. It involves large computers, enormous storage capacity and the processing of unimaginable amounts of data. “We constantly present the people at IDT with major challenges because we need to be able to calculate increasingly faster in order to analyze the ever-growing amount of data in a meaningful way. But the better we can do that, the more likely we are to find breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancer.”

More information

Within the Kemmeren group there is a unique combination of expertise in the field of bioinformatics, genetics and big data, plus extensive experience in setting up and coordinating bioinformatics infrastructures, such as a large-scale computing cluster, workflow management systems and data management facilities. Patrick was also interviewed by KiKa.