Children’s Cancer Institute turns to data analytics in quest for a cure

Reporting vital to the success of the new 'Zero Childhood Cancer' programme

By Byron Connolly
Aug. 16, 2016


When you are trying to deliver insights that will help clinicians identify tailored treatments for children with high risk cancers, using basic spreadsheets to help collate and analyse information doesn't quite cut it.

This is exactly what researchers at the Children's Cancer Institute were using to store and study operational and numerical data that is generated from experiments using genomic information.

Blood and tissue sample data sent from the Sydney Children's Hospital, Westmead Children's Hospital and others around Australia to the Institute's 'biobank' were catalogued for researchers using basic SQL reporting services reports, spreadsheets, and application-specific reporting tools.

The 'Biogenix' open source legacy system used to store biological information also had incredible limitations, Elaine Neeson, head of technology at the Children's Cancer Institute toldCIO Australia.

"As the research progressed a lot of the work became too complex for this system to actually handle. It was taking our team hours and hours to come up with a list of the [genomic] samples that we had. There were a lot of errors - people would say we had samples of a particular disease when we actually didn't because data had been entered incorrectly," she said.

Improving the accuracy of reporting will be even more vital when the 'Zero Childhood Cancer' program is rolled out nationally between 2017 and 2020.

Announced last year by the institute and Sydney Children's Hospitals Network, this personalised medicine program will identify treatments for children with high risk cancer. The program has increased the need for the institute's operational data to be highly accessible to users as it is scaled up and samples are received from every children's hospital in Australia.

To help it cope with this expected demand, the institute has deployed Yellowfin business intelligence and analytics software. This database-independent data analysis tool lets researchers and business users produce reports that offer insights across the research, operational, and business aspects of the organisation.

Users can pull data out of the legacy system and the web-based Biofortis LabMatrix clinical research management system and determine at any point in time how many samples exist for any particular disease type. Biofortis LabMatrix was deployed in April this year for general biobanking and will be used for personalised medicine from 2017 onwards, Neeson said.

The Zero Childhood Cancer program will need to raise $50 million over the next five years to make it a national clinical tool.

"For them [the institute's fundraising department] to reach $50 million, they need to know, at the push of a button, how campaigns are travelling. We need to know, if something is not working ... we need to change what we are doing so it's more profitable to us as well," said Neeson.

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