World's largest disease database will use artificial intelligence to find new cancer treatments

November 10, 2013

A new cancer database containing 1.7 billion experimental results will utilise artificial intelligence similar to the technology used to predict the weather to discover the cancer treatments of the future.

The system, called CanSAR, is the biggest disease database of its kind anywhere in the world and condenses more data than would be generated by 1 million years of use of the Hubble space telescope.

It is launched today (Monday 11 November) and has been developed by researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, using funding from Cancer Research UK.

The new CanSAR database is more than double the size of a previous version and has been designed to cope with a huge expansion of data on cancer brought about by advances in DNA sequencing and other technologies.

The resource is being made freely available by The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and Cancer Research UK, and will help researchers worldwide make use of vast quantities of data, including data from patients, clinical trials and genetic, biochemical and pharmacological research.

Although the prototype of CanSAR was on a much smaller scale, it attracted 26,000 unique users in more than 70 countries around the world, and earlier this year was used to identify 46 potentially 'druggable' cancer proteins that had previously been overlooked*.

The new database will drive further dramatic advances in drug discovery by allowing researchers access to, and the ability to interact with, unprecedented amounts of multidisciplinary data in seconds.

CanSAR now contains more than eight million experimentally derived measurements, nearly one million biologically active chemical compounds and data from over a thousand cancer cell lines. It also contains drug target information from the human genome and model organisms. Research that had previously taken months to complete will now take only minutes.

Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani, Team Leader in Computational Biology and Chemogenomics at The Institute of Cancer Research, said: "CanSAR uses artificial intelligence, like that used in weather forecasts, to predict which potential drugs are likely to work in which circumstances. The database is capable of extraordinarily complex virtual experiments drawing on information from patients, genetics, chemistry and other laboratory research. It can spot opportunities for future cancer treatments that no human eye could be expected to see."

Professor Paul Workman, Deputy Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, said: "This is an extraordinary time for cancer research, as advances in scientific techniques open up new possibilities and generate unprecedented amounts of data. Our aim is to make this wealth of information, coming from both the clinic and from the laboratory, freely available in a very user-friendly form to as many people as possible.

"This database speaks many different languages - a chemist and a clinician can access data from each other without having to understand each other's jargon. It is so easy to use that anyone can have a go - I fully envisage a bright A-level student using it and in the future that might even be where we see fresh ideas coming from."

Nell Barrie, Cancer Research UK's senior science information manager, said; "Research into cancer relies on international collaboration, and the CanSAR database makes it easy for scientists around the world to tap into huge amounts of information - from the lab and the clinic - to fuel new discoveries. The clues we need to tackle cancer are hidden in data like this and by making it freely available we can boost our progress and make breakthoughs sooner."
-end-
For more information contact Claire Bithell, Head of Media Relations at The Institute of Cancer Research, on 0207 153 5359 or Claire.Bithell@icr.ac.uk. For enquiries out of hours, please call 07969 082520.

Notes to editors:

The new database will be online on 00.01 hrs Monday 11 November at: https://cansar.icr.ac.uk/

*This research was carried out at the Institute of Cancer Research and funded by Cancer Research UK.

The Institute of Cancer Research, London, is one of the world's most influential cancer research institutes.

Scientists and clinicians at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) are working every day to make a real impact on cancer patients' lives. Through its unique partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and 'bench-to-bedside' approach, the ICR is able to create and deliver results in a way that other institutions cannot. Together the two organisations are rated in the top four cancer centres globally.

The ICR has an outstanding record of achievement dating back more than 100 years. It provided the first convincing evidence that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer, laying the foundation for the now universally accepted idea that cancer is a genetic disease. Today it leads the world at isolating cancer-related genes and discovering new targeted drugs for personalised cancer treatment.

As a college of the University of London, the ICR provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction. It has charitable status and relies on support from partner organisations, charities and the general public.

The ICR's mission is to make the discoveries that defeat cancer. For more information visit http://www.icr.ac.uk

About Cancer Research UK For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1861 or visit http://www.cancerresearchuk.org. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook

Institute of Cancer Research

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