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New analytical tools to accelerate global pancreatic cancer research

16 November 2017

Work funded by Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund has enabled the development of powerful online analytical tools that will speed up analysis of the vast amounts of data generated by research into pancreatic cancer.

Advances in technology have helped the global research community to study tissues and samples from pancreatic cancer patients - as well as cultured cells and mice used in early-stage research - in more detail than ever before.  Traditionally, these huge amounts of data were isolated; they were stored in multiple locations, in different forms and formats. This made it a daunting and time-consuming task to wade through the sea of information retrieved and make sense of it all.

The Pancreatic Expression Database (PED) was created 11 years ago to address this challenge. It collates information related to pancreatic cancer and makes it freely available to researchers in a simple, user-friendly format, accessed from a dedicated website.

Now, thanks to funding from PCRF, Professor Claude Chelala from Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London, has been able to take PED to a whole new level. Her team has created and launched new, powerful analytic and visualisation tools to speed up the research process, and help scientists find even more answers and information to help advance their research projects.

“As the amount of unbridled information continues to grow, it becomes progressively more challenging to extract relevant data and identify interlinked research,” says Prof Chalala. “These analytical tools act as a bridge between pancreatic cancer scientists and the crucial data generated by other research groups around the world.  Imagine having information generated from the analysis of thousands upon thousands of pancreatic cancer-related tissue samples and cell lines at your disposal. This could help find new relationships, interactions or mechanisms between genes, proteins or cells that reveal new ways to tackle the disease.”

The new tools allow the global scientific community to easily explore the available data, to interpret it, and to validate the results of their own research against findings published in previous studies. All of this can be done by simply selecting and clicking their choices on the website’s interface.

Professor Claude Chelala, Barts Cancer Institute

“I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved here, how it will speed up the research process and provide deeper insight into research findings and their implications for developing new treatments for pancreatic cancer,” says Prof Chelala. “It will also maximise pancreatic cancer research because different researchers have different areas of expertise, need to ask different questions and come at the challenge of pancreatic cancer from different angles. We need to support the diversity of approaches if we’re going to truly conquer this disease.”

PED, with its new analytics tools, will ultimately be incorporated into PCRF’s £2 million national pancreas tissue bank – the first in the world – which was set up in 2016. This means that the data generated from tissue samples supplied to researchers by the Tissue Bank will be automatically fed back into PED, and the data available to the scientific community will continue to grow.

 “I have been a part of PED from the outset and overseen its growth and evolution. I am honoured to lead in its development and incredibly proud of what is being achieved," says Prof Chelala. "My team and I realise the potential impact this resource can have to pancreatic cancer research and are dedicated in making sure that PED becomes the best that it can be.”

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