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Dell Donates Cloud Power For Pediatric Cancer Research

Kids with rare, deadly neuroblastoma cancer could be first to benefit from new clinical trial focused on finding more effective, personalized treatments.

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Dell Computer is partnering with several hospitals, the National Cancer Institute, and researchers, in a cloud computing project aimed at helping scientists and clinicians develop more personalized and effective medical treatments for kids with cancers.

The new personalized medicine clinical trial project initially is focused on neuroblastoma, a rare, deadly cancer. Neuroblastoma usually strikes one in 100,000 children annually before the age 5, but is responsible for one in seven pediatric cancer deaths. Approximately 97% of the children diagnosed with neuroblastoma die within three years.

Through Dell's Powering the Possible giving program, the company announced it is donating cloud computing resources as well as employee time and talent--including IT expertise, volunteers to work at the various participating pediatric centers, and fundraising efforts. Dell expects its funding of the effort in the first year will total about $4 million and that the contribution will expand in years to come, said Jamie Coffin, vice president and general manager of Dell's healthcare and life sciences business.

The cloud infrastructure will support and enable collaboration and data exchange among oncologists and medical researchers nationwide and will be placed at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), a key partner in the project. Medical research will be conducted by the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium (NMTRC) and the Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) in what is being dubbed the first personalized medicine clinical trial for pediatric cancers.

[Already here: Web apps that help pinpoint an indvidual's cancer treatment options. See Web App Advances Personalized Cancer Treatment.]

The donation of Dell's secure, high-performance cloud-based computing resources will increase by 1,200 percent the gene sequencing and analysis capacity of TGen's existing clinical cluster.

Currently, genomic sequencing of individual patients can take months, generating more than 4 terabytes of data, said Coffin in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare. With the donated cloud technologies, the time needed for the genomic mapping and analysis of tumors can be shortened to weeks, he said.

The project could be expanded later to support research into other pediatric cancers, said Coffin. The aggressive nature of neuroblastoma often renders many conventional chemo and other treatments ineffective, and research funding and discoveries have been scant compared with many other cancers because of the disease's small patient base.

"When a kid is diagnosed with this cancer, it's hit or miss with drugs to try," said Coffin. "The use of genomics analysis could help calculate the best cocktail of drugs to try for a particular child," he said.

The goal of the project is to provide oncologists and cancer researchers with the computational resources to do complex analysis on patient genomics and treatments faster so that personalized therapies can be better targeted to individual patients in the hopes of improved outcomes, and ultimately saving kids' lives.

In addition to the National Cancer Institute and the other research partners in the project, hospitals participating in the clinical trial include: Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Levine Children's Hospital, Charlotte, N.C.; M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Orlando, Fla.; SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, St. Louis, Mo.; Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics, Kansas City, Mo.; Connecticut Children's Medical Center, Hartford, Conn.; Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Ore.; Rady Children's Hospital, San Diego, Calif.; and the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, S.C.