Oregon State to help lead effort to make cancer research data more useful and accessible

Oregon State University has been awarded $8.8 million to help lead a 3½-year effort to make the volumes of data arising from cancer research more accessible, organized and powerful.

Scientists from OSU, Oregon Health & Science University, the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Carolina will team up to create and operate the Center for Cancer Data Harmonization.


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The center will work with a cloud-based data-sharing portal called the Cancer Research Data Commons. The goal of the portal is to take disparate types of data generated by everything from basic science studies to clinical trials and integrate and structure it in ways that help researchers and health care professionals.

The collaborators will develop a “concierge service” for researchers needing help understanding how to leverage, incorporate, design or use cancer data.

“Our team includes experts across the fields of data modeling, terminologies, enterprise software development, cancer research and clinical oncology,” said lead principal investigator Melissa Haendel, who directs Oregon State’s Translational and Integrative Sciences Laboratory.

The lab aims to apply data science principles, techniques and technologies to large-scale problem solving on a societal level.

The cancer data work will be organized around five key areas: community development, data model harmonization, ontology and terminology ecosystem, tools and data quality, and program management. Ontologies define relationships between concepts in a way that allows computers to do logical reasoning.

“Our approach to this project will be one of radical inclusion, casting a wide net to engage as many varied viewpoints and needs as possible,” said Nicole Vasilevsky, research assistant professor at OHSU. “We will simultaneously engage some of the world’s most talented semantic engineers to develop tools and processes for aligning and harmonizing data.”

The Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research awarded the research contract on behalf of the National Cancer Institute.

“The people on our team have all successfully executed complex and difficult projects and have created world-renowned programs exemplary of the kinds of expertise needed to create a new National Cancer Data Ecosystem as outlined by the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel recommendation,” Haendel said. “We are exceptionally honored at OSU to be able to help lead this vision.”

This press release was provided by Oregon State University.