The Surprising Way Data Science Helps in Cancer Research
In this article, you will learn about data science and its effects on cancer research. In particular, you will learn about:
- How data science helps in early cancer diagnosis
- How data science can help find the cure for cancer
In light of the World Cancer Day which took place on February 4, we thought that it might be a nice way to show you how data science is actually helping in the research for the cure and treatment of cancer. Millions of people lose their lives or loved ones to cancer each year, and while scientists are doing their best to cure it, there has been only limited progress in finding the cure. A lot of reasons why cancer is not detected in its early stages- where most types of cancers are curable- is because of the lack of technology and information available (until now) to help doctors diagnose them at the right time.
The problem with cancer treatment is that while a lot of valuable data is available to doctors everywhere around the world (the internet has a lot to do with this), only a few have experience with clinical trials. This is because of the general attitudes of patients once they hear that they have cancer. It’s almost as though just hearing that one has cancer is enough to make a lot of people lose their will to fight the disease at all. Another problem with cancer is that not all symptoms are the same for everyone. Same goes with the medicines. A medicine that works for one patient might not work for another. There are thousands of pharmaceutical companies that are pushing new medicines out every day and, in spite of the massive data available, every doctor may not have heard about every new release.
This is where Big Data comes in. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has started an initiative called CancerLinQ which collects data about these new medicines, their usage and results in real time which doctors can use to look at the various symptoms and the required medicine to increase the chances of treatment.
Data Science in Early Cancer Treatment
Data Science can be integral to the early diagnosis and subsequent treatment of cancer in many patients. This is because knowing a patient’s symptoms and prognosis, and then comparing it to a database of people with the same symptoms can help medical teams decide how they want to treat cancer and begin the treatment process. Big Data helps analyse this massive amount of information available and also helps to categorize data according to age, race and gender so that more detailed information is available, forming patterns which doctors can use to treat cancer. Big Data is also able to predict long term solutions based on the availability of previous cases, both successful or not, and thus help doctors determine the best course for actions.
Researchers also use Big Data to help understand the genetic changes that lead to the formation of these cancers, studying from a large pool of case files of cancer patients from diverse backgrounds. This, combined with the ability to sequence the DNA of different kinds of tumours, combined provides a very strong framework for researchers to build their research on. This helps to develop medication which can be used to target the various different kinds of tumours and also understand how to fix the genetic change which leads to them in the first place. By doing so, not only can cancer be treated from the very beginning, but the continuous addition in the database will help future scientists with their research as well.
Big Data cannot cure cancer on its own. However, scientists can make use of it, along with other intelligent machines, to study the complex ways in which cancer cells multiply and form tumours. Before Big Data, it took scientists and researchers decades to realize the link between lung cancer and cigarettes. Now, with the help of modern technology, research facilities only need a hospital’s approval to check its records with histories of cancer cases. Instead of putting a lot of manpower and work into looking for patterns, these scientists can easily rely on Big Data and AI to help analyse and understand patterns.
Many government organizations dedicated to finding the cure for cancer have realized that it is going to be near possible to find a cure for cancer without using AI and Big Data. Because of this, there is a lot of development happening and organizations such as Million Veteran Program in the United States and the Cancer Genome Atlas in the UK are working towards using Big Data to help create human genomes, open to researchers for analysis via the cloud. The point is to study as many cases as possible in order to get newer insights as quickly as possible. The sooner we understand how all types of cancers are formed, the sooner we will get to actually curing them all, once and for all.
As you can see, data science is actually helping scientists all around the world look for the cure and treatment of cancer worldwide, as we speak. Future projections show that the investment in Big Data and related technologies by companies and governments all around the world will help further develop this technology. A couple of decades ago, sequencing human genomes would cost around $10 million but now it can be down for less $1000. Research and development in this field are being accelerated as pressure is rising on pharmaceutical companies and researchers to find the cure. Whether this motivation to help save the lives of millions of people is out of good intentions or the greed to control a future pharmaceutical monopoly is unknown, but a growing number of clinics and companies have started to use Big Data to analyse and then determine the symptoms, causes and medication required to treat cancer.