caBIG« Supports Multicenter Translational Research on Colorectal Cancer in the Netherlands
"Translating biology into medicine: that's a challenge."
- Gerrit Meijer, M.D. Ph.D., Chair, Department of Pathology, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
At the Center for Translational Molecular Medicine (CTMM) in the Netherlands, within the DeCoDe (Decrease Colorectal cancer Death) consortium, Dr. Gerrit Meijer and colleagues representing five academic institutions and eight industry organizations are working together to develop new approaches to diagnose colorectal cancer early and accurately.
He explained, "Translational research needs to start by asking where the unmet clinical needs are, rather than starting from a biomarker and finding an application for that." He continued, "Any pipeline begins with a concept of proof for a biomarker. The challenge is getting from there to an implemented diagnostic test that will benefit patients."
Dr. Meijer and his team from VU University Medical Center (VUmc) are now using caBIG« to transform their translational research process from "a local train, with all the stops, to a modern bullet train."
"We knew where we wanted to go…and we knew we needed IT to help us get there, but that was easier said than done."
Identifying the Need
Dr. Meijer and his team had an ambitious plan for technology to connect consortium participants; support biobanking initiatives; and improve the workflows and logistics that enable the collection of samples, and the storage, management, and analysis of diverse data types ranging from images, tissue microarrays, and proteomics.
"Workflow is always a challenge! For example we literally have students in their cars, driving all over the city, picking up samples at patients homes and dropping them off at the lab. It sounds trivial but it is actually quite a challenge to organize that," he mentioned.
Interoperability was also needed to connect a variety of siloed data sources such as a population registry for population-based screenings, clinical trials data sets, and the national pathology registry.
Finding a Solution
The engagement with caBIG« first began in the fall of 2008, when Dr. Meijer was searching for technology to support the consortium in its colorectal cancer research. He and his colleagues reviewed a number of available technologies before settling on caBIG«.
"We surveyed a number of commercial solutions, but they used 200% of the budget and only solved 10% of the problem," he quipped.
Dr. Meijer reached out to the NCI Center for Biomedical Informatics and Information Technology for information on caBIG« and quickly began to evaluate whether the models they needed were comparable with current caBIG« technology and software. It was not long after that first meeting that they selected caBIG« as the platform to support the consortium, and the center has now implement or piloted tools including OpenClinica, caTissue, caArray, and caIntegrator.
Making a Difference for Patients
The center's IT goals are ambitious, but the true objective of this work is to decrease colorectal cancer death, which will require better methods of screening and early detection, as well as ways to ensure patients are receiving the most effective interventions.
"Our project is about turning tumor biology into molecular markers that can be detected through imaging or laboratory tests," Dr. Meijer explained. "This could take the form of running DNA or protein based tests on stool or blood samples for cancer screening; or establishing imaging biomarkers that will enable "virtual colonoscopies" for screening. Additionally, by identifying molecular markers in patients with primary or metastatic colorectal cancer, we may be able to predict prognosis with genomic profiling and adjust therapy accordingly."
Along the way, the team will collect data to support medical technology assessment (or comparative based effectiveness research, as it is known in the U.S.).
Plans for the Future
Encouraged by the early success of the program at VUmc, the CTMM organization as a whole is currently developing a business plan that outlines opportunities to implement additional caBIG« applications across the center. The plan also identifies unmet needs and areas where the center may contribute to the open source approach, such as the areas of digital microscopy, proteomics, or PET and MRI imaging.
"We also plan to use caBIG« to connect patient workflows with research workflows, which will really be key to enabling true translational research."