Cloud technology being used in cancer trial

November 20, 2011
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The Van Andel Research Institute and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital will participate in a national pediatric cancer initiative that is being funded by Dell Inc. and is based on medical technology the local institute developed and tested with Spectrum Health, the region’s largest provider.

The Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium, which is headquartered at VARI and includes the children’s hospital, is conducting what is being reported as the world’s first FDA-approved personalized medicine trial for pediatric cancer.

“Even at this earliest moment in genetics-guided therapy, there is universal recognition that the amount and complexity of data is overwhelming,” said Jeffrey Trent, VARI president and research director, in a written statement. “Dell’s commitment to helping children with cancer, coupled with its expertise in developing cloud-based solutions for health information, will provide great benefit in terms of helping us manage the massively complex data generated by this clinical trial.”

Dell has committed funding, employees and cloud-computing technology to the effort, which will help increase the gene sequencing and analysis capacity by 1,200 percent, and will improve the collaboration between the physicians, genetic researchers, pharmacists and computer scientists involved in the project.

“It’s time to do more for the children and families battling pediatric cancer, and pediatric cancer is an area where Dell can address an unmet medical need and our people and technology can make an immediate and lasting difference,” said Paul Bell, president of Dell Public and Large Enterprise and chairman of Dell’s Strategic Giving Council.

Dell’s cloud technology will allow researchers to investigate new technologies that accelerate genetic analysis and identify targeted treatments for each patient. The additional computing power also will improve the availability of critical information and allow researchers to develop a real-time knowledge repository of the latest findings on the most effective treatments. It’s expected that oncologists across the globe will be able to use the findings.

“This will help physicians and scientists share information rapidly, and is designed to help us arrive at the optimal treatment decision for each child battling cancer,” said Trent.

Prior to Dell’s participation, the work was primarily funded by parents of children with neuroblastoma and their family foundations. The trial has been based on research done in West Michigan that goes back to 2006 and included researchers, physicians and patients from VARI and Spectrum Health.

The project also is receiving in-kind support from Intervention Insights, a Grand Rapids-based life sciences firm.

“(Having) the ability to analyze the gene expression of specific tumor cells and target our therapy as directly as possible to the malignant cells is one of the most exciting developments in oncologic molecular medicine,” said Deanna Mitchell, principal investigator for NMTRC at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

Neuroblastoma is a cancerous tumor that develops from nerve tissue. Its cause is unknown and it occurs in infants and children under 5. It can appear anywhere in the body, but most often develops in a child’s abdomen. It can lead to kidney and liver failure, a loss of blood cells from the bone marrow, and a lower resistance to infections. Medulloblastoma is a brain tumor that most commonly appears in children between the ages of 3 to 8. Treatments include surgery and chemotherapy.

“For far too long, children with pediatric cancer have relied on hand-me-down adult cancer treatments, which are brutally harsh and, in many cases, more punitive than curative for children. We’ve given them to kids because something is better than nothing,” said Patrick Lacey, president of Friends of Will Cancer Foundation.

“And now, thanks to innovative doctors and Dell’s incredible support, kids will finally get a chance at treatment designed to improve their lives and survival,” he added. “They don’t have to settle for brutal and ineffective therapy as status quo any longer and they have a chance to trail blaze the way to more effective and less toxic therapy for everyone with cancer.”

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