Can cloud collaboration and data analytics cure cancer?

After decades of research, the data needed to cure cancer exists, but, unfortunately, writes columnist Rob Enderle it’s not being shared or analyzed effectively. That may be changing thanks to Intel and Oregon Health and Science University.

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Intel, which is one of my oldest clients, recently held its developer forum. This year’s event was particularly well-done, but one thing stood out for me. It was a small part of their Internet of Things (IoT) session and it focused on data analytics and curing cancer.

Cancer is one of those topics that I’m surprised we don’t talk more about given half of the men and a third of the women will experience it in their lifetimes, and two people with the same kind of cancer and the same treatment can have dramatically different outcomes. One may live and the other may die largely because the treatment wasn’t matched to their unique genetic makeup. Cancer has killed a relatively large number of people I grew up with both in and outside of my family and, frankly, the disease scares the hell out of me.

Intel, along with the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) announced, the Collaboration Cancer Cloud, and this could cure cancer (see “Data analytics help doctors develop cancer treatment plans in a day”). Well, more accurately, it could hook you up with a cure that already exists but you can’t get to at the moment. You see, if you or someone you love gets cancer it is very likely a cure exists but it is lost in some cancer research center and your doctor can’t connect you to it. This is the problem that Intel and OHSU are fixing and the approach is brilliant and showcases how we need to look at analytics, and security, differently if we want to use it to solve big problems.  

The cancer problem/solution

It used to be that we didn’t know enough about cancer to properly address it. But we’ve had decades of studying this deadly disease and we know, collectively, a great deal about it today. We know for instance that the best treatment needs to be matched to the genetic makeup of the patent and the version of cancer they have. The issue is that these huge cancer research centers are afraid to share their data for security reasons and the datasets are so big that you can’t send them anyplace in order to pool analytics.

The Collaboration Cancer Cloud is a secure method for connecting these massive datasets together and analyzing the result against the patents unique genetic makeup and that of the cancer type they have to locate the specific treatment that will best assure their recovery. Going live in 2016 this effort could save your life or the lives of those you care about and it would be wise to keep track of its progress. Initially it will connect three large cancer research facilities across the country but eventually its goal is to connect all of them.

Once that is done it is expected that the threat of cancer could be massively reduced to a point were only the treatment was a question, survival was a given.

Looking at data analytics differently

It stands to reason that this same approach could be used not only on other diseases (heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s are all on the list), but to other problems like global warming, defense, space travel, artificial intelligence, natural disaster forecasting and alerting, and the long-term survival and happiness of the human species. If we want to solve some of these huge problems we have to connect the information from a variety of companies, industries and even government institutions in a secure fashion so the total effort can be analyzed and progress optimized.

At the heart of this is a willingness to share data for the common good realizing that execution will still best define the most successful effort. We don’t typically like to share data at this scale but the influx of social media is making younger generations far more willing to share than the generations that are currently running companies, governments and industries.

Given that, the stage is set for firms to use an approach like this to redefine the world and address global problems far more effectively than we have in the past. And, of course, advance technically at a far faster pace through data collaboration.  

Time to put all that collected data to good use

We have been focusing too much on collecting data and too little on pooling our efforts and analyzing the result. Unfortunately, this increasingly means we, or someone else, has the data needed to solve our most critical problems but we just can’t analyze it to get the answer that, in some cases, could literally save our lives.

Programs like the Collaboration Cancer Cloud showcase how these huge problems could be solved, a part is technology, but another part is realizing that finding an answer is in many cases far more important than hoarding the data.

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