Earlier this year, actress Angelina Jolie made headlines when she announced that she had chosen to have a pre-emptive double mastectomy because she carries a faulty gene that gives her an 87 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. The identification of that faulty gene – known as a cancer marker – led to her potentially life-saving decision.
Cancer markers are unique combinations of chemical indicators, such as DNA and proteins, that can be detected in tissue samples. They can indicate a person’s risk of developing a particular form of cancer, as well as how they might respond to a specific treatment. Though researchers believe that thousands of clinically useful markers exist, only a handful have been identified to date. As more markers are discovered, doctors will be able to detect cancer earlier and personalize treatment based on a patient’s genetic profile – both of which usually result in significantly better treatment outcomes.
Today, we’re launching the Mapping Cancer Markers project to advance this research. Mapping Cancer Markers is a collaboration between Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Canada, one of the largest cancer treatment facilities in the world, and IBM’s World Community Grid. We aim to identify clinically useful markers to detect cancers earlier, identify high-risk patients, and predict treatment response. We will search for markers by analyzing millions of data points from thousands of healthy and cancerous patient tissue samples. These include tissues with lung, ovarian, prostate, pancreatic and breast cancers.
To power this vital research, we will rely on IBM’s World Community Grid volunteers who donate their computers’ spare capacity to carry out the extensive analysis of cancer tumor data. Together, volunteers and researchers are forming the largest and most comprehensive “cancer research team” in the world.
World Community Grid volunteers are critical to the success of Mapping Cancer Markers.
If you have a computer, you can help too. Join us to start searching for cancer markers with our team.
Together, we can help cancer patients gain earlier detection and targeted treatments.
Igor Jurisica, Ph.D., leads the Mapping Cancer Markers (MCM) project at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and University of Toronto.