Aedín C. Culhane, Ph.D
Professor of Cancer Genomics School of Medicine, University of Limerick,
And Lead, eHealth-Hub for Cancer
Cross-border collaborations in Ireland can transform pools of medical data into new research opportunities and possible treatments for patients with rare and complex diseases.
Data and technology have changed healthcare dramatically over the last few years, says Aedín Culhane, professor of cancer genomics at the University of Limerick. “The tools we have now are very different to what we had five years ago,” she says. “We need to use that technology in Ireland. We need to connect patients across borders and use information from international studies to improve care and treatment.”
This transformative digital shift has led to new possibilities in the realm of cancer and cell research, reveals Culhane. “Now, we can get highly detailed molecular data on every, single cancer cell. It means we can take the molecular portraits of that cell and direct medicines more precisely.”
Managing large data volumes
Translating the immense volume of available data into effective treatments and research opportunities requires collaborative partnerships, says Culhane. The Limerick Digital Cancer Research Centre, for example, is a partner with several organisations in support of the Genomic Data Infrastructure (GDI), a project that aims to enable access to over 1 million European genome sequences for research.
Translating the immense volume of available data into effective treatments and research opportunities requires collaborative partnerships.
“It will allow us to identify a genetic or genome marker that could be very rare in an Irish context,” says Culhane. “It helps us find a way to leverage the fact there are over 400 million people in Europe where that variant may not be so rare. We can use that information to better direct clinical decisions.”
Allowing new information to emerge
Connecting diversified data allows new insights into treating Irish patients affected by cancer, says Culhane. The eHealth-Hub for Cancer, led by University of Limerick with the Queen’s University Belfast and five other institutions across Ireland, aims to train students in best international practice of securely sharing and analysing federated clinical data to further understand the scale of cancer.
“We can connect cancer data, so we can better know the distribution of disease on the island,” says Culhane. “The aim is to harmonise Irish data according to international standards so it can be compared to global data because having access to a large data pool brings valuable benefits to patients. When you have large cohorts, you can ask questions that you couldn’t ask before,” she adds.
“Data opens up new and exciting cancer research opportunities in Ireland and can connect us to ground-breaking international research projects, bringing deeper insights and potentially driving discovery of life-changing treatments.”