UPMC, Pitt Researchers Find Distinction in Breast Cancer

Jul 1, 2013

UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh have found that pre-menopausal and post-menopausal breast cancer are very different in their genetic make-up but are being treated the same way.

Pitt researchers discovered this after analyzing clinical and genomic information on 140 patients previously treated for breast cancer.

It is the first test of a $100 million data warehouse project.

The goal of the data warehouse is to collect cancer data from UPMC’s 21 medical centers and analyze it in the hopes of creating personalized treatment.

“We took that unique opportunity to take those 140 breast cancers and then say in this new data warehouse: Can we put in all of the clinical information we know on these patients, so their age, tumor size etc., and then take all of their omic information which the National Institute of Health has generated, put it all together and that’s what led to this answer,” said Adrian Lee, director of the Women’s Cancer Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

While working with the data from the 140 breast cancer patients, Pitt researchers discovered that pre-menopausal breast cancer is actually more aggressive than post-menopausal breast cancer.

UPMC’s data warehouse project is part of the National Institute of Health’s Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) project, which is an effort to produce comprehensive genomic maps of the most common cancers.

Lee said the work builds on an idea with which most Americans are familiar.

“Within a millisecond, Google gives you back everything you need to know, and it turns out it’s very relevant for what you were searching," Lee said. "That isn’t by accident. That’s because Google is very good at bringing all the data together, analyzing it and putting back to you what seems most relevant to you. So this is essentially what we hope to do.”

Lee said UPMC’s data warehouse is the largest single contributor of breast cancer tissue to TCGA.

According to Lee, the culmination of data will help researchers ask the right questions regarding cancer.

“Traditionally, much of the data we have is present in what we call data phylos, so it’s present in these different areas, and so you can’t ask questions between them. And so what this does is to bring more of that data together such that we can ask these questions that basically we couldn’t ask before,” Lee said.

Lee said the next phase of the data warehouse project will concentrate on head, neck and ovarian cancer.