Intel’s Cancer Cloud Gets New Recruits

March 31, 2016, 9:56 PM UTC
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SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 16: The Intel logo is displayed outside of the Intel headquarters on January 16, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. Intel will report fourth quarter earnings after the closing bell. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Photograph by Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Intel’s cancer cloud continues to spread.

The semiconductor giant said on Thursday that the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have joined Intel’s Collaborative Cancer Cloud. The custom-built computing system is for cancer researchers to exchange healthcare information.

Intel hinted that two new research groups would join the cancer cloud in August when it detailed some of the work it has been doing with the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University. The chip giant first announced the cancer cloud in 2013.

Although the specifics of what the three cancer institutes will be working on wasn’t detailed, the general idea is that they will contribute and share molecular and imaging data with one another via the cloud data center.

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Currently, healthcare groups and institutes that study cancer typically avoid sharing data for fear of security breaches as well as legal reasons, said Eric Dishman, an Intel (INTC) fellow and general manager of the company’s health and life sciences group. Genomic information contains so much detail about patients’ health that it could violate their privacy if it leaked, Dishman explained.

Additionally, technological limitations have made it difficult for many researchers to share their data, which is often stored in old databases and systems. To speed up research, these disparate collections of genomic data must be combined in a single system so it can be processed using advanced data crunching.

“What is remarkable about cancers is how heterogeneous they are,” said Joe Gray, a cancer researcher for the Oregon Health & Science University. “What we are really looking for are patterns for success in a maze of chaos.”

Although Intel’s cancer cloud is still early in development, both Gray and Dishman, himself a cancer survivor, are hopeful that more groups will join the initiative to add more data. By 2020, they hope that the cloud system will help doctors give patients accurate cancer diagnosis and treatment plans within 24 hours.

Other technology companies specializing in the use of advanced data analytics to study cancer include Guardant Health, Flatiron, and Syapse. IBM (IBM) is also making a big push into using machine-learning techniques to advance healthcare research as part of its Watson Health unit. The business technology giant has also been acquiring several healthcare companies like Truven Health and Phytel to obtain more health-related data to better train its systems.

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Still, Dishman believes the amount of medical data IBM is trying to accumulate through acquisitions won’t be enough for a full-proof system.

“I don’t think they can buy enough data to achieve precision medicine in terms of where it’s going to go, in terms of scale,” said Dishman.

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