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

The Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will collaborate on an $8.8 million, 3.5-year effort to make the volumes of data arising from cancer research more accessible, organized, and powerful. This contract was awarded by the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research on behalf of the National Cancer Institute.

Led by Oregon State University (OSU), scientists from RENCI, Oregon Health & Science University, the University of Chicago, and Johns Hopkins University will team up to create and operate the Center for Cancer Data Harmonization (CCDH).

The CCDH will work with a cloud-based data-sharing portal called the Cancer Research Data Commons. In the Commons, the goal is for disparate types of data generated by everything from basic science studies to clinical trials to be integrated and structured in ways that help researchers make advances and clinicians provide the best treatments.

The center’s work will be organized around five key areas: community development, data model harmonization, ontology and terminology ecosystem, tools and data quality, and program management. 

RENCI will contribute expertise in incorporating ontologies into tools for data validation, harmonization, and quality control. As open biomedical datasets continue to increase, facilitating the ability of researchers to navigate those datasets and find insight becomes increasingly important – and increasingly difficult – according to RENCI Senior Research Scientist James Balhoff, PhD.

“Ontologies define relationships between concepts in a way that allows computers to do logical reasoning, but you need tools that take advantage of that to help with quality control,” said Balhoff. “Combining input from researchers and the work of the other institutions on the project to create semi-automated tools will empower data providers to prepare and QC their own data and to create a more searchable database within the Cancer Research Data Commons.”

 “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 OSU’s Translational and Integrative Sciences Laboratory. “They have all created world-renowned programs exemplary of the kinds of expertise needed to create a new Cancer Data Ecosystem as outlined by the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel recommendation. We are exceptionally honored at OSU to be able to help lead this vision.”