A collection of researchers, clinicians and supporters of the world-leading ProCan project visited Children’s Medical Research Institute on Friday to get an update on its program which one described as “staggering’’.
ProCan was established in 2016 thanks to a grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation. It aims to analyse thousands of cancer samples from around the world to develop a database of information to advance scientific discovery and enhance clinical treatment.
On Friday the vital collaborators working on the project, without which ProCan would not be possible, gathered at CMRI to hear what has been achieved in the last two years. This included representatives from research, clinical practice, biobanks, major funders such as the Australian Cancer Research Foundation and the National Breast Cancer Foundation and key collaborator Sciex.
ProCan staff to present included research leaders Professors Roger Reddel and Phil Robinson, Professor Rosemary Balleine as well as data and technology experts Doctors Brett Tully and Qing Zhong.
Many questions were asked about the varied possibilities of the program. Prof Robinson reassured everyone that there were many options available but they wanted to focus their resources.
“We’re firmly committed to answering the key research questions from our collaborators, with our primary focus on achieving outcomes important for getting this to the clinic as soon as possible,’’ he said. “However, we can do much much more, if we had more people and more resources.”
While ProCan has immense capacity for sample processing, one key need that was identified was more young data scientists who had been trained in biology, according to Dr Zhong.
“I just spoke to a summer student who came to data science after a degree in biochemistry, and it’s that experience in a lab, dealing with real world research questions, that we need.”
Data scientists are crucial to making sense of the petabytes of information being handled regularly by ProCan. Attendees were reassured that all of the data will be retained and made available to researchers around the world, providing a “rich resource to be mined far into the future’’.
Innovations were described at every step of the program including governance, pathology, sample preparation and algorithms—which would overcome technical hurdles and introduce cost savings. All present were inspired with a real sense of the immense potential of ProCan.
One experienced researcher commented on the program made in the last two years.
“It is a staggering achievement to have advanced so far so quickly."