Intel partners with Broad Institute to help beat cancer

Intel has announced a collaboration with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, to help medical researchers share and process important medical data in the fight against cancer.

Intel partners with Broad Institute to help beat cancer

The aim of the new collaboration is to speed up genomic research. Genomic data involves the sequence of an individual’s DNA and is key for creating precise treatments for cancer, but the length of time it currently takes to order and communicate this data is holding back research.

To help, the Broad Institute is partnering with Intel to provide cloud-based access to its Genome Analysis Toolkit (GATK) software package, and to co-develop new tools that will make it easier for researchers to store and process vast quantities of genomic data, and help medical professionals come up with targeted treatment plans for patients.

Intel is already using cloud-based analytic tools across collective data sets from Oregon Health Sciences University, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research as part of its Collaborative Cancer Cloud project, first announced at IDF 2015.mit_broad_center

Above: The Broad Institute 

“The stuff we’re doing with the Broad is just going to make execution of those tools within that collaborative environment faster, better and cheaper,” said Bryce Olson, global marketing director of Health and Life Sciences at Intel. “Then as the Collaborative Cancer Cloud expands and grows, it’s going to help researchers discover things faster and make things for patients like myself that much better.”

Olson is himself a cancer survivor, thanks in part to a targeted drug treatment plan that resulted from genomic sequencing data. He explained that the partnership with the Broad Institute is the latest in Intel’s efforts to facilitate a new level of collaboration in medical research.

“Today, with genomic data, there’s really no databases,” said Olson. “There’s no standard database at all. When you’re working on something like running GATK for variant discovery, you’re basically reading and writing to these giant text files. For the first time now there’s going to be an actual database that can make things faster.”


The tools being developed include GenomicsDB, an optimised version of TileDB, which was developed by MIT and Intel researchers working at the Intel Science and Technology Center for Big Data. There is also Cromwell, a workflow execution engine that is being extended to support multiple input languages and execute on multiple backends simultaneously. Both TileDB and GenomicsDB are being released as open-source tools.

The partnership with the Broad marks the latest milestone in Intel’s widening Collaborative Cancer Cloud. At the end of March, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research joined the big data project, and Olson believes collaborative genomic analysis will continue to develop as a key weapon in the fight against cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

“In the future, I see all cancer patients will get genomic sequencing,” Olson said. “The mutations that are found in their tumours will be known and understood. There will be a direct link between those mutations and targeted treatment plans that will turn cancer into a manageable disease.”

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