UT MD Anderson leveraging data to push the frontiers of research and improve patient care

AUSTIN—UT MD Anderson Cancer Center is likely the first institution in the nation to develop a platform that captures clinical data on every single patient it treats – so that more effective treatments for devastating diseases can be found faster.

MD Anderson’s Translational Research Accelerator already has captured data on 200,000 patients treated at the cancer center since 2012 and now is working to collect data going back 10 years on a total of 500,000 patients.

“We’re in the age of information where we have the opportunity to create a continuous learning system where technology could enable us to seamlessly capture data and analyze data to drive improved patient care as well as push the frontiers of research,” MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho, M.D., told the UT System Board of Regents Wednesday during a presentation about the Translational Research Accelerator.

In most health care institutions, patient data is generally trapped within medical records and only a small proportion of patients participate in research studies, said Andrew Futreal, Ph.D., chairman of genomic medicine at MD Anderson and a pioneer in cancer genomics and data sharing and integration.

“With a disease like cancer, which is inherently complex, from patient to patient, across tumor types, within tumor types, we know we’re sort of the blind men and the elephant in the room part of the time, where one has the trunk and one has the tail,” he said.

By capturing data on every single patient, the Translational Research Accelerator will be able to fully integrate clinical data with research data, quickly analyze it and ultimately do a better job faster, Futreal said.

“It’s about building systems that allow us to capture data and learn from patients; leveraging technologies as they present themselves; and learning from other industries but always with the patient at the center of what we do and trying to figure out how we accelerate science so we do a better job of caring for the patient today and even a better job of looking after the patient who arrives tomorrow,” he said.

The platform was designed with an eye on collaboration, so that MD Anderson could share data with other health institutions, consortia or the pharmaceutical industry, for example.

“We tried to think ahead of the curve and how to make this a system that can reach outside the walls of the institution and become a platform for collaboration,” Futreal said. “This is hugely important and where we really have to push hard thinking about how to use these types of collaborative platforms...where people can bring their data, collaborate on specific problems where different patient populations might be brought together to answer a question that would have been impossible for any institution to have answered on its own.”

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