VCU Massey researchers encouraged by Vice President Biden’s $70 million Genomics Data Commons project
Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University(VCU) Massey Cancer Center were in attendance at the American Society for Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago when Vice President Joe Biden announced that more than $70 million would be invested in the development of the Genomics Data Commons (GDC), an information center housed at the University of Chicago and funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to help facilitate the sharing of genomic and clinical data among cancer researchers in order to advance personalized medicine.
“We have been waiting for the launch of the Genomics Data Commons since last year when we first heard about it,” says Amy Olex, a bioinformatics specialist at VCU’s C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research (CCTR). “With its implementation, cancer researchers at VCU will have seamless access to data from multiple cancer genomic projects.”
For the past two years, the CCTR has been helping VCU researchers access and analyze over 240 terabytes of DNA sequencing data from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) project, a collaborative effort supervised by the NCI that has sequenced more than 500 patient samples in order to catalog genetic mutations responsible for cancer. Information obtained through DNA sequencing helps scientists understand exactly what fuels cancer growth, and it has given rise to a new class of precision therapies designed to target cancer-causing mutations.
Data from TCGA will be transferred over to the GDC, along with data from the Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments (TARGET), which is a pediatric version of TCGA. VCU has made significant investments in data storage and other bioinformatics infrastructure to help scientists analyze DNA sequencing data, and workshops are scheduled to help researchers make full use of the data available through the GDC.
“VCU is ahead of the curve in preparations to analyze DNA sequencing data, and I believe this will make us a valuable contributor to the GDC project,” says Krzysztof Cios, professor and chair of the Department for Computer Science and director of enterprise informatics at VCU. “These investments will also better prepare us for the storage and analysis of DNA sequencing information from our patients as Massey builds out its precision medicine capabilities.”
In 2014, Massey became the first cancer care provider in the state to perform advanced DNA sequencing for precision cancer treatment. At Massey, patients can have their DNA sequenced to determine whether they have mutations in dozens of genes that might respond to certain therapies. Massey researchers are also partnering with the NCI and other institutions on clinical trials testing targeted therapies not yet available to community practices. Data from these types of studies will eventually be fed into the GDC to facilitate collaboration and hopefully speed up discoveries.