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HPC Super-Computers

A Revolution in Cancer Research

The successful sequencing of the human genome in 2000 set in motion an explosion in our understanding of cancer. Some of the fruits of this research are already being incorporated into treatment and care of cancer patients, and much more is set to follow.

Cancer is essentially a disease of the genes, caused by mutations in DNA that alter the way a gene functions and allow a cell to grow, multiply and spread in an abnormal way. The development of advanced genetic and molecular technologies over recent decades has given researchers the tools to examine these biological processes in detail.

We can now sequence – or read out – the entire genetic code of an individual cancer genome in just a few weeks; while a technique called mass spectrometry allows us to monitor simultaneously the thousands of processes occurring inside cancer cells. Using new DNA sequencing techniques, we can examine thousands of cancer samples and identify key genetic changes driving cancer growth, faster and more accurately than ever before. Already, more than 400 genes linked to cancer development have been identified.

Central to this new technology-driven knowledge is computing power. The volume of data generated in these studies is immense. Scientists need to be able to analyse the data, put it through rigorous quality control, access it easily and store it for future use. These requirements mean that High Performance Computing (HPC) is now a vital part of cancer research.


Benefits to Patients

Investing in HPC is dramatically increasing our power to exploit the growing amounts of information delivered by these new technologies. This knowledge is allowing us to develop tests to predict disease outcome and patients’ response to a drug, design better therapies, identify new strategies to monitor disease and find and manage patients at higher genetic risk of cancer.


HPC and Tailored Cancer Treatment

These new technologies have particularly improved the process of developing novel anti-cancer drugs. As we discover more about the precise molecular defects that drive cancers, we can design drugs that target these specific faults. Rapidly and efficiently designing and selecting drugs is also dependent on computer power.

Our growing understanding of the molecular causes of cancer and the development of drugs targeting these abnormalities is heralding an era of personalised medicine.

With the current pace of technological development, it is possible that in a few years we will be able to take a sample of a person’s tumour, read its genetic code within a few days or even hours, identify the key genetic changes and determine a tailored and personalised course of therapy.

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