Cancer researchers from around Asia are planning a landmark regional initiative to coordinate both data sharing and epidemiology.
The network would gather data from cancer registries in countries from the Philippines to Turkey, an area that has two-thirds of the world's population and more than half of its 7.6 million cancer deaths each year, according to the World Health Organisation.
Most of these nations have registries, but the data are not always accurate or standardised, says Kazuo Tajima, director of the Aichi Cancer Centre Research Institute in Nagoya, Japan, who is one of the meeting's organisers.
The Asian Cancer Registry and Information Network (ACRIN) would establish the region's first hub, probably in Japan, to hold standardised data, which could then be used for epidemiological research, cancer risk assessment and prevention planning. It would offer some of the less-developed countries in the region a chance to catch up with modern diagnostic techniques and offer comparisons that might help figure out why, for example, incidence of liver cancer is so high in Mongolia.
The network would also offer an opportunity to tease out the role of Asian genes in the development of some cancers and the reaction to particular drugs.
“Most of the data used in cancer studies are from Westerners,” says Sumio Sugano, a genomics specialist at the University of Tokyo who attended the International Union against Cancer (UICC) symposium in Nanjing. “This is a chance to use Asian data.”
The organisers anticipate difficulties over the privacy of data. “We have to move one step at a time,” says Sugano. “Building trust among researchers is the first step.”
Organisers of the meeting hope that the network's activities can bridge some of the animosity present in the historically fractious region. The meeting was funded by Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, partly to celebrate the 35th anniversary of normalisation of Sino–Japanese diplomatic relations. The next meeting will be in Manila in March.