The power of data could be the key to solving the cancer puzzle
In the field of potentially life-saving cancer research, data is more than just a buzzy term deployed by marketers — it’s a fundamental part of the search for answers.
Computing power, says Dr Warren Kaplan, the Chief of Informatics at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, is quickly emerging as a precious resource in the quest to solve cancer and other complex diseases.
DreamLab, a mobile app and initiative dreamed up by The Vodafone Foundation Australia, is just one example of how data can make a difference. Instead of fundraising in the most literal sense, the app collects a different type of donation: your data.
Below are a few eye-opening facts about data’s role in cancer research and how DreamLab is making an impact.
The amount of data associated with cancer research is staggering
To paint a picture of the sheer amount of data we’re talking about, when it comes to cancer research such as the work being done at the Garvan Institute, it helps to think in terms with which we’re familiar. For example, according to Kaplan, sequencing one person’s genome — the three billion base pairs (or DNA letters) that act as the instruction manual for our body — requires roughly 500 gigabytes of data. This is equivalent to about half a million minutes of streaming music.
Sequencing one person’s genome requires roughly 500 gigabytes of data.
If you multiply this number by many thousands — the number of individuals whose genomes must be analysed to gain meaningful insights into cancer — that’s the amount of data processing power it takes to begin making a dent.
“Increasingly, we researchers are depending on supercomputers to crunch immense amounts of data in order to learn more about cancer and other serious illnesses,” says Kaplan. “A choke point in this research has been the sheer quantities of computing power required. The more computing power that’s available, the faster genomes can be analysed and potential new treatments discovered.”
Donate data simply by charging your device
Millions of us today are walking around with tiny, powerful computers inside our pockets. Now, we can put those devices to use for the greater good.
Supporting the research being conducted by Kaplan and his colleagues is as simple as downloading DreamLab and performing an action you already do dozens of times every week — plugging in your device.
DreamLab is simple to use: You download it, choose a cancer research project you’d like to support and then select how much data to donate. (The mobile data to use the app itself is free if you’re a customer of Vodafone Australia). Then, whenever you charge your phone, the app downloads small bits of information from the cloud about specific types of cancer.
Kaplan elaborates about the app’s process: “Using your phone’s computer processor, the app then compares these genetic profiles to identify their similarities and differences between different cancers and sends the answer back to our team at the Garvan Institute.”
“DreamLab provides dedicated, free access to what is essentially a smartphone supercomputer,” says Kaplan. “By harnessing this power, complex data can be crunched faster and research completed sooner — speeding up the chance of making discoveries to improve and save lives.”
Disclaimer: Downloading DreamLab uses data. DreamLab can be used when your device is charging and has mobile network or WiFi connectivity. Mobile data to use DreamLab is free for Vodafone Australia customers on the Vodafone Australia network. Roaming incurs international rates.