Western Digital

Can Big Data be used to defeat cancer?

Despite several years of research, we continue to lose several lives to cancer. Can technology help?

Cancer is one of the most deadliest diseases ever known to mankind. In India, out of the 1.8 million people living with cancer in 2012, about 683,000 deaths due to cancer were registered. Furthermore, the number of new cases is expected to rise by about 70% over the next 2 decades. While much research has already gone in the fight against cancer and there is progress, mankind is far behind in tackling cancer.

Can cancer be detected at an early stage by pathologists? Can the current pathologists be better equipped with technologies and automation that facilitate more rapid and accurate detection, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment options.

Keeping in mind the importance of detecting cancer at an early stage, serial entrepreneur Satish Sanan launched Inspirata to revolutionize the practice of pathology worldwide—not through incremental advances, but with transformative, intelligent solutions that leverage Big Data analytics. The company has already completed groundbreaking work in the oncology field by developing an end-to-end Digital Pathology Workflow Solution that scans glass pathology slides, making the digital images available for high-resolution viewing and sharing anywhere in the world.

Inspirata hopes to leverage information at all scales of biology to understand cancer comprehensively. How does cancer overcome metabolic norms and grow out of control? What resources (i.e. blood supplies) are needed to feed the disease?  How does it evolve to become more virulent and destructive? These are the questions that Inspirata is building a solution to answer.

Mark Lloyd

“We need information at all biological scales to battle this insidious enemy. You don’t win a war knowing how to destroy tanks. You win a war knowing how to protect your own and destroy tanks, planes, infantry and ships. In the war against cancer the list includes proteomic information, Genomic information, Metabolomic information, Transcriptomic information, Cellular information, Organ information, Personal information and population information. We need information at all scales of biology to understand our enemy and to use its weaknesses against it to design optimal therapies,” says Mark Lloyd, Executive Vice President and Founder, Inspirata.

By analyzing multiple data points related to cancer, cancer specialists can perhaps arrive at a solution to defeat cancer — a task that has been beyond the reach of mankind till today.

Big Data repository of cancer data  
Inspirata is focused on bringing a new weapon to the fight. Quantitative cellular information has previously been an impossibility. Pathologists who look under the microscope understand how important their observations are toward rendering a diagnosis. Inspirata adds this information in a digital, measurable format, along with each of the other biological scales of information.

“We are looking at building a compressive view of cancer. This is our Cancer Information Data Trust, a Big Data repository of medical information that is not available today.

We aim to transform cancer diagnostics by first making digital images available.  Immediately tele-medicine becomes possible to give the patient the most rapid and accurate diagnosis from anywhere in the world.  But then the multi-modal Big Data repository produced as a result of digitalization allows researchers and physicians to continue to mine a new source of data, together with existing sources, to get a complete view of the disease,” says Lloyd.

Using Big Data, Inspirata is analyzing how cancer interacts with its environment within the body and hopes to leverage this information to design optimal therapies. And, with this knowledge, the drugs being used today can be leveraged in smart ways to modulate cancer growth.

Democratizing cancer care in India
Lloyd says that telemedicine can democratize cancer care in India by facilitating a rapid and accurate diagnosis from a sub-specialist expert instantly. Giving patients the ability to collect digital images of their tumors to send around the world for a second opinion is extremely valuable. But Inspirata has a longer term vision as well.

“Cancer is so diverse it cannot be generalized. It is not one disease but over 200.  Some researchers say 20,000. As an example, breast cancer and leukemia are extremely different diseases and have very different outcomes. Many breast cancer patients, when the situations are right, are adults who overcome their disease. Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia is a childhood disease that in the end, proves to be fatal 50% of the time with state-of-the-art therapy. And it acts differently for Westerns compared with Indians,” explains Lloyd.

Understanding that a customized approach to treating cancer is essential, Inspirata is interested in understanding Indian cancers to help treat Indians. The strategy is to collect a Big Data repository of digital images and other pertinent information within the population of Indians with cancer to help researchers understand the nuances of the disease for the Indian population. Then, leveraging that information to build medical assays to predict cancer recurrence, progression and response to therapy is critical.  A test to help Indians make therapy decisions, such as receiving chemotherapy for aggressive tumors or forgoing it if the cancer is not predicted to progress, can be made available using the analysis of these digital images and can be priced in a way that makes it accessible to all.

If Inspirata succeeds in its vision, it can transform the way cancer patients are treated throughout India. For example, the turnaround time for cancer detection and diagnosis will be shortened from 12-13 days to 2-3 days. Additionally, patients will have more rapid and affordable access to second opinions and consultations from a worldwide pool of pathologists who specialize in specific forms of cancer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *