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Cancer battle faces stiff Big Data, privacy challenges

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U.K. cancer researchers have set up a new facility to harness Big Data on tumor genes and understand how to attack malignancies, InformationWeek reported. Yet the Tumor Profiling Unit, established with £3 million ($4.7 million), faces some computing and privacy hurdles to aid efforts that could make cancer into a manageable, chronic disease rather than a death sentence.

As the tech publication reports, the cancer genomes of just a million patients would eat up as much storage space as that of YouTube. Yet storage gets cheaper and denser all the time, making its easier to corral massive data sets. Perhaps a bigger bugaboo facing cancer researchers are privacy and regulatory issues around sharing info on tumor genes with colleagues and drugmakers, which play an essential role in developing new treatments.

Still, the researchers have some scientific obstacles in their path that involve pinpointing how cancers resist existing drug attacks.

"For people with advanced disease, it will be a question of managing them better so they survive for much longer--for many years," said professor Alan Ashworth, CEO of the U.K.'s Institute of Cancer Research, as quoted by InformationWeek. "Cancer often appears in people who are old; if we can keep them alive long enough for them to die of something else, then we are turning cancer into a chronic disease."

Cancer researchers have done an incredible job of building up massive amounts of data on tumor genes through efforts such as The Cancer Genome Atlas, which has also explored the ways genes in cancer misbehave to promote disease progression. Yet there's a lot of work to be done to translate all the new data into new treatments that could make lifelong management of cancer a reality for some patients.

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