Cancer 'grid' allows sharing of information

August 1, 2005

Anaheim, Calif. — The cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid, or caBIG, is an important introduction of information technology to the war on cancer, much the same as information technology has been used to transform business and the military, according to Kenneth H. Buetow, Ph.D., director of the NCI Center for Bioinformatics and laboratory chief, Laboratory of Population Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md.

Anaheim, Calif. - The cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid, or caBIG, is an important introduction of information technology to the war on cancer, much the same as information technology has been used to transform business and the military, according to Kenneth H. Buetow, Ph.D., director of the NCI Center for Bioinformatics and laboratory chief, Laboratory of Population Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md.

"It is critically important to bring this state-of-the-art technology to biomedical research in general and to cancer research specifically," he says. "We may only be able to solve the critical problems in cancer research if we could use the powerful tools of information technology to synthesize, integrate and share the information that is part of the broader enterprise."

What is caBIG?

Dr. Buetow explains that the goal is to speed the delivery of innovative approaches for the prevention and treatment of cancer. The infrastructure and tools created by caBIG also have broad utility outside the cancer community.

"The project is an effort to put in place an integrated information infrastructure that brings together the disparate components of the cancer research community, allowing us to join our efforts, our applications and our data so that we can meet the goals of eliminating suffering and death due to cancer," Dr. Buetow says.

Pilot program

The pilot program was launched last year.

"From our perspective, the program is going outstandingly well," Dr. Buetow tells Dermatology Times. "In the course of a year, we have assembled a collection of more than 600 individuals working on this project. We have 50 of the NCI-designated cancer centers that have agreed to participate in the caBIG activity and to abide by its founding principals of open source, open access, open development and federation. They all have agreed to play together and to build this common infrastructure," he says.

The group has made tremendous progress in organizing communities in three domain specific areas:

"The molecular approached to cancer requires ready access to a variety of tissue resources, and there is a developing infrastructure to share tissue resources across the cancer enterprise," Dr. Buetow adds.

The Integrated Cancer Research Work Space is assembling a broad collection of tools and data that fall into the bench-to-bench and bench-to-bedside translational research space.

For example, these include tools to support genomics analysis and proteomic databases.

In order to create this integrating infrastructure, an agreed-upon collection of vocabulary and data elements is needed. The Vocabularies & Common Data Elements Workspace was established and has made significant progress in this area.

"This is a group that is creating data elements and vocabulary so that we can share data," Dr. Buetow explains. An Architecture Workspace is working to define and build out the common architecture, the true IT architecture that allows us to create the grid part of our name," he says.

The outlook

The ultimate goal of caBIG is to be able to use the infrastructure to really change the face of how biomedical research is conducted.

"It is our hope that we can extract more valuable information from invaluable patient samples that we have received in the course of clinical research," he says. "The information that is generated in one research laboratory would then be electronically accessible nearly instantaneously to other laboratories rather than having to wait the months and years to have material and data transferred through publications or through informal collaborations.

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