This graphic depicts stained slides of ovarian cancer tissue sections that were analyzed using custom software to extract form and shape features of many cells rapidly. The distribution of the features is then correlated with clinical outcomes, such as survival, drug response and drug resistance.
Storing music and photos on distant computers via ''cloud'' technology is nothing new. But Johns Hopkins researchers are now using this tactic to collect detailed information from thousands of cancer cell samples. The goal is to help doctors make better predictions about how a patient's illness will progress and what type of treatment will be most effective.
The project, supported by a new $3.75 million National Cancer Institute grant, was launched because researchers now realize that cancer cells affecting the same type of tissue can behave differently in different patients. Prostate cancers may grow rapidly in one patient, but expand at a glacial pace in another. A drug that kills a tumor in one patient may be useless or even harmful in the next patient.
To help doctors prepare a more personalized medical prognosis and treatment plan, Johns Hopkins has assembled experts in cancer and engineering, led by Denis Wirtz , associate director of the university's Institute for NanoBioTechnology. The team has begun characterizing and storing cancer data collected through a process called high-throughput cell phenotyping.
''We use scanning microscopy to take pictures of the size and shape of cancer cells,'' said Wirtz, who also directs the Johns Hopkins Physical Sciences-Oncology Center. ''We also extract information about what is happening inside the cells and at the genetic level. We make notes of the age and gender of the patient and any treatment received. Looked at as a whole, this information can help us identify a 'signature' for a certain type of cancer. That gives us a better idea of how it spreads and how it responds to certain drugs.''
He added, ''The long-range goal is to make this data available through the Internet to physicians who are diagnosing and treating cancer patients around the world.''