ecancermedicalscience

Policy

Impact of caBIG on the European cancer community

3 Oct 2011
R Warden

The cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG) was launched in 2003 by the US National Cancer Institute with the aim of connecting research teams through the use of shared infrastructure and software to collect, analyse and share data. It was an ambitious project, and the issue it aimed to address was huge and far-reaching. With such developments as the mapping of the human genome and the advancement of new technologies for the analysis of genes and proteins, cancer researchers have never produced so much complex data, nor have they understood so much about cancer on a molecular level. This new ‘molecular understanding’ of cancer, according to the caBIG 2007 ‘Pilot Report’[1], leads to molecular or ‘personalised’ medicine being the way forward in cancer research and treatment, and connects basic research to clinical care in an unprecedented way. But the former ‘silo-like’ nature of research does not lend itself to this brave new world of molecular medicine—individual labs and institutes working in isolation, “in effect, as cottage industries, each collecting and interpreting data using a unique language of their own”[2] will not advance cancer research as it should be advanced. The solution proposed by the NCI in caBIG was to produce an integrated informatics grid (‘caGrid’) to incorporate open source, open access tools to collect, analyse and share data, enabling everyone to use the same methods and language for these tasks.

caBIG is primarily a US-based endeavour, and though the tools are openly available for users worldwide, it is in US NCI-funded cancer centres that they have been actively introduced and promoted with the eventual hope, according to the pilot report, of being able to do the same worldwide. caBIG also has a collaboration in place with the UK organisation NCRI to exchange technologies and research data. The European Association for Cancer Research, a member association for cancer researchers, conducted an online survey in January 2011 to identify the penetration of the ambitious caBIG project into European laboratories. The survey was sent to 6396 researchers based in Europe, with 764 respondents, a total response rate of 11.94%.