07:38am Thursday 28 May 2020

Prostate cancer questions could be answered through Big Data project

Data from more than 400 000 patients in different countries will be used to increase knowledge and improve treatment of prostate cancer. This is all taking place within the international big data for better outcome (BD4BO) project PIONEER, in which Lund University has a prominent role.

Despite intensive research, there are many unanswered questions concerning prostate cancer – one of the most common types of cancer.

The disease is multifaceted and includes several subtypes. Meanwhile, the approaches to diagnosis and treatment vary from one country to the other.

The EU-funded PIONEER project was recently launched in Amsterdam and has 32 partners from nine different countries. The participants from Sweden include Lund University through Professor of Urology Anders Bjartell and assistant researcher Susan Evans Axelsson, both from the same research team.

“Thanks to its size and content, PIONEER is able to ask questions about prostate cancer in a new way”, says Anders Bjartell, who is also the European deputy coordinator for PIONEER and senior consultant at Skåne University Hospital.

Large amounts of clinical data and research from more than 400,000 prostate cancer patients will be linked to enable European experts in prostate cancer to improve diagnostics and treatment. The aim is to do so by, among other things, filling the knowledge gaps through a combination of large amounts of data and advanced methods.

Before the project started, the most important questions regarding prostate cancer were determined. A large number of prostate cancer specialists, patient representatives and the global life science industry were interviewed online. The respondents subsequently agreed on the top five prostate cancer questions to be answered:

  • The patient’s genetic profile – what are the benefits of determining it and linking it to clinical diagnostics (e.g. screening) and treatment?
  • What are the links between side effects and different types of treatment?
  • How does health develop in patients with prostate cancer who are not undergoing treatment, and how do parallel diseases affect their health?
  • What tumour and patient variables should be taken into account when deciding on treatment?
  • Are there any benefits of local tumour treatment in metastasised prostate cancer?

Lund University has a key role in the project – and one of the most difficult according to Anders Bjartell. It involves managing the work of creating access to all the databases to be linked, thereby giving researchers the opportunity to answer the questions above. A brand new giant data platform will be developed.

More than 50 clinics and research institutes in different countries with potentially interesting data have agreed to contribute. Several large pharmaceutical companies that have conducted clinical trials in prostate cancer are also part of the project.

As a start, a more detailed mapping of the data in the different databases is currently underway. After that, it is time to prioritise and negotiate contracts to gain access to key data. An assessment must also be made to determine whether the project needs to find additional databases.

Among the already identified databases are the extensive population studies Malmö Preventive Medicine and Malmö Diet and Cancer, which are pursued at Lund University and are frequently used in medical research.

There are great hopes for the expected clinical benefits of the project:

“Overdiagnosis when using PSA tests is currently one of the most discussed issues associated with prostate cancer. Here, PIONEER can provide valuable knowledge, for example by studying the significance of the patients’ genetic profile,” says Susan Evans Axelsson, who plays an important role in several subprojects.

Anders Bjartell’s research team is already managing various projects using big data and artificial intelligence to study prostate cancer.

Facts/PIONEER (Prostate Cancer DIagnOsis and TreatmeNt Enhancement through the Power of Big Data in EuRope):
PIONEER is financed through EU’s investment in the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), and has a budget of EUR 12 million (half of which is provided by the life science industry). The project was initiated by the European Association of Urology (EAU) and is one of a handful of major Big Data projects currently supported by IMI. Read more about PIONEER and its partners on the website: https://prostate-pioneer.eu/

Other IMI-funded Big Data projects include ROADMAP (Alzheimer’s disease), HARMONY (cancer/haematology) and Big Data Heart (cardiovascular disease).


Lund University


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