Could a Massive Data Dump Help Solve Breast Cancer?

March 8, 2016, 3:07 PM UTC
Cancer research laboratory
Reportage in a laboratory which develops therapeutic vaccinations to treat small-cell lung cancer, using optimised cryptic peptide technology. These vaccinations are intended to treat cancer by stimulating the immune system so it can recognise and attack cancer cells, without harming normal cells. They target over-expressed antigens present in tumourous cells (universal tumour antigens). The lab grows T lymphocytes and dendritic cells. Dendritic cells are filled with optimised cryptic peptides (antigens), then put into contact with T cells so they become responsive to the antigen. The activated T lymphocytes are then able to target the cancer cells. Placing the T lymphocyte culture on the cell count slide. (Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)
BSIP UIG via Getty Images

When a breast cancer patient goes in for genomic testing, data usually gets locked away in a patient file.

But on Tuesday, genomic testing company Ambry Genetics released anonymized data on genetic profiles of thousands of its breast and ovarian cancer patients.

The database, called AmbryShare, is free and open to the public. In other words, it’s a big catalogue where researchers, doctors, or patients can seek out genetic patterns in cancer data.

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“As a stage four cancer survivor, I find it shocking that public and private laboratories routinely lock away vital genomic information. That practice is delaying medical progress, causing real human suffering, and it needs to stop,” said Ambry Genetics CEO and founder Charles Dunlop, in a statement.

Yet others caution that a database of just 10,000 genome parts, known as exomes, may just be a drop in the bucket.

“It is not clear to me that 10,000 exomes changes the game much,” said David B. Goldstein, a professor of genetics at Columbia University, speaking to the New York Times.

There is one other database of about 60,000 exomes being run by the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard.

Nevertheless, Ambry promises it will continue to add in up to 200,000 genomes to the new database every year.

President Obama: Let’s Make America The Country That Cures Cancer:

The data dump comes about as the Obama administration is trying to build a massive patient database of its own. The White House’s “Precision Medicine Initiative” is aimed at getting a million Americans to share their genetic and long-term health data with researchers.

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