HBKU and QCRI research sheds light into brain tumours
16 Feb 2016 - 17:39
Doha: An innovative research led by scientists at Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU) has suggested a new way of brain tumours, which could significantly impact patient management and may lead to the development of new targeted drug therapies.
The study into identifying the aggressiveness of brain tumours has received significant recognition at the international platform.
It has been published by Cell, one of the influential scientific journals in the United States and one of the top twenty most highly ranked scientific journals globally.
Michele Ceccarelli, a senior scientist at Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) and who specialises in bioinformatics and computational biology, is the lead author of the newly published scientific paper. It includes an international task-force of scientists that offers a comprehensive analysis of the molecular characteristics of gliomas, which are the most common type of malignant brain tumour, and suggests ways to more accurately treat patients and guide their therapy.
The paper explains why some patients who are diagnosed with slow-growing (low-grade) tumours sometimes quickly succumb to the disease, while others with more aggressive (high-grade) tumours are able to survive for several years. As a result of this research, a new way of classifying the tumours has been suggested, which could significantly impact on patient management and may lead to the development of new targeted drug therapies based on the identification of several previously unrecognised genetic alterations that may contribute to initial glioma development.
Currently, pathologists determine if a tumour is low grade or high grade based on investigation under the microscope of tissue taken from the tumour. By sifting through large amounts of data, the new investigation discovered that while this approach is generally good at distinguishing between tumours that are clearly very aggressive and those that are relatively slow growing, it misses the mark in a significant percentage of cases, leading to inappropriate treatment.
In producing the study, Ceccarelli worked closely with a large team of scientists from a number of major institutions around the world, including Columbia University Medical Center in New York, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. By utilising a global research network, Ceccarelli and the other scientists were able to analyse the complete genomic information of 1,122 patients with both high and low grade tumours from the Cancer Genome Atlas.
“This project is an example of the advantage of Big Data. The Cancer Genome Atlas mega-project was started a decade ago and has involved collecting a huge amount of information from thousands of patients with several types of tumours. In order to make our discovery, we worked with a large network of more than 300 scientists from around the world,” said Ceccarelli.
“We used our expertise at QCRI to analyse the millions of pieces of information that formed a ‘data tsunami’ in order to identify common characteristics of various groups of gliomas. Notably, it is the largest available collection of information on glioma worldwide, and as a result of our analysis we discovered two novel subgroups of patients that were previously unknown,” he said.
In addition to Ceccarelli’s lead authorship of the research paper, the project also involved the contribution of Samreen Anjum, who served as a QCRI intern at the time of the study and has since become a full-time member of the research team. Dr Ahmed Elmagarmid, Executive Director of QCRI, said, “This is a proud achievement for our research institute and for HBKU, as it demonstrates how the computing research work undertaken by members of our team can have a significant impact on society. The journal Cell is extremely well regarded, so to be lead author and an important contributor to a paper featured in the publication is a resounding endorsement of Michele’s and Samreen’s talents.”