By: Annette McElhiney
On July 29, 2017, I celebrated 9 years since my IIIC ovarian cancer debulking surgery. Because I’ve been so fortunate to be in remission, I spend hours each day researching, writing, and corresponding with other ovarian cancer survivors as well as any cancer survivors.
I follow all the postings on ovarian cancer that I can find. On a recent morning, I discovered this fascinating video on ways of using Big Data in Ovarian Cancer. After reading this brief introduction, I invite you to watch the video, ‘A Story of Big Data, Cancer, and Collaboration‘.
In 2011, a group of researchers compiled The Cancer Genome Cancer Atlas or TCGA which addresses specifically several other diseases in addition to ovarian cancer.
As Wikipedia states, “The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) is a project, begun in 2005, to catalogue genetic mutations responsible for cancer, using genome sequencing and bioinformatics. TCGA applies high-throughput genome analysis techniques to improve our ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent cancer through a better understanding of the genetic basis of this disease.”
“TCGA is supervised by the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Genomics and the National Human Genome Research Institute funded by the US government. A three-year pilot project, begun in 2006, focused on characterization of three types of human cancers: glioblastoma multiforme, lung, and ovarian cancer. In 2009, it expanded into phase II, which planned to complete the genomic characterization and sequence analysis of 20-25 different tumor types by 2014. TCGA surpassed that goal, characterizing 33 cancer types including 10 rare cancers. Funding is split between genome characterization centers (GCCs), which perform the sequencing, and genome data analysis centers (GDACs), which perform the bioinformatic analyses.”
This endeavor was a very complex process. “The project scheduled 500 patient samples, more than most genomics studies, and used different techniques to analyze the patient samples. Techniques include gene expression profiling, copy number variation profiling, SNP genotyping, genome wide DNA methylation profiling, microRNA profiling, and exon sequencing of at least 1,200 genes. TCGA is sequencing the entire genomes of some tumors, including at least 6,000 candidate genes and microRNA sequences. This targeted sequencing is being performed by all three sequencing centers using hybrid-capture technology. In phase II, TCGA is performing whole exon sequencing on 80% of the cases and whole genome sequencing on 80% of the cases used in the project.”
I have read a great deal about big data but have never been certain how it fit into cancer treatment. But, I have always wanted to know more.
In corresponding with other women and reading other ovarian survivors’ posts, I hear women, like the woman in this video, who want “cutting edge” treatment for their ovarian cancer first line. However, we are sometimes being cautioned not to go beyond the current “gold standard treatment.”
I’m not an oncologist or researcher, only a survivor who is hungry for both answers and hope. When I was diagnosed in 2008, I opted for adding the the experimental drug Avastin to be my “gold standard” treatment. I continued it one year afterwards and have been in remission for 9 years and never regretted that decision.
If and when I recur, with my doctors cooperation, opt for cutting edge treatment most likely using The Clearity Foundations tools to find it. However I share this view only as my opinion not that of my Doctor or The Clearity foundation.
Consequently, I watched this 30 minute video and tried to understand its very technical and nontraditional way of using principles of physics, genomics, computer modeling, genetic sequencing, and biology in considering new ways of treating cancer. The researchers (one an ovarian cancer survivor herself) talk about using both a combination of “stemness” (patterns of metastasis and stem cells growth) and “immune system activation processes” to treat her individual tumor.
This video or her treatment choice won’t be for everyone! But I found that reading about these researchers joint efforts gave me hope that eventually researchers will learn enough about genomics to transform first line ovarian cancer treatment from merely a generic “one fits all” treatment to a highly personal or “hybrid genetic” treatment.
I worry, however, about the funding for these studies as in 2017 when the funding for NIH and for cancer research is so uncertain.
But if “squeaky wheels do get the grease” I plan on squeaking for myself and my sister survivors for as long as possible. We must keep first line treatment for ovarian cancer moving forward!