A new system that facilitates data and biospecimen sharing among cancer centers may speed up the transition of cancer research findings from the laboratory to patient care, according to a study published in Cancer Research (doi:10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-15-1973).

Researchers from University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Cancer Center and its partner, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, the Georgia Regents University Cancer Center, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania developed the TIES Cancer Research Network (TCRN), a federated network that uses advanced text processing of medical reports. The researchers propose TCRN will be a useful model to promote translational research across all cancer centers.

The use of personalized therapies and precision medicine is increasing, and more sophisticated systems for sharing data, even tissue samples, across centers are needed.

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“With the TCRN, we can study rare diseases and rare behaviors of common diseases much more effectively. Investigators may not have enough cases at a single institution to support a compelling study, but they can now aggregate and access data and biomaterials across multiple institutions,” said Rebecca Jacobson, MD, MS; professor of Biomedical Informatics, Pitt School of Medicine; chief information officer, Institute for Personalized Medicine; and lead researcher in this study.

Traditionally, cancer researchers from various institutions collaborated through centralized networks, in which 1 institution accepts all of the relevant data and materials and makes it available to the others. Each individual study requires its own technology infrastructure and agreements to operate. As an alternative, these researchers created 1 infrastructure that could be used for many studies, across many institutions, without moving any of the data.

“The centralized model cannot scale to a national network. Every new study or new institution means more work for the central data broker, and institutions don’t want to cede their authority to manage their own data,” Jacobson said.

“This new network model provides the technology, legal agreements, and standards needed to easily use de-identified data and tissue specimens across institutions. You can think about it like a superhighway for data and biomaterial sharing, helping researchers get there much, much faster. “

Jacobson’s team previously developed the Text Information Extraction System (TIES), a state-of-the-art language processing system that serves as the underlying technology for TCRN.