Big Data analysis takes on childhood brain cancer

Facing the ugly end of a hype cycle, Big Data could turn skeptics into believers with a new initiative to improve treatment of a childhood brain cancer. The software company NextBio is supporting the effort with its analysis platform, which cancer researchers in Georgia will use to hunt down predictive biomarkers for medulloblastoma, the most common brain cancer in kids.

NextBio's software could serve as a tonic for data overload in the research community. The Santa Clara, CA-based outfit has touted the new "Clinical" product as its ticket to deliver genomics and Big Data analysis to healthcare customers. The company started out helping lab researchers. Now the group plans to integrate clinical and genomic data from real patients, in this case children with brain cancer, to expose the drivers of the disease.

As NextBio explains in a release, about 500 kids in the U.S. get diagnosed with the brain tumors annually. Clinicians struggle to determine whether patients with the tumors have a form that is spreading, so all the kids get treated with radiation, which is toxic to their brains. The goal of the study in Georgia is to spot biomarkers that can identify the cases that require radiation and those that don't.

NextBio's research agreement involves Emory University, Winship Cancer Institute and the Aflac Cancer Center, according to the company.

"This study will look at clinical and genomic data from real patients, as well as data from mouse models and frozen human tissue samples," Dr. Alpana Verma-Alag, NextBio's head of clinical development, said in a release. Dr. Verma-Alag noted that the researchers will "correlate these data sets with other data from the public domain."

Emory and Winship last year tapped NextBio to find biomarkers for multiple myeloma.

- check out the release