The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) is a joint cancer genomics program between the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute in the US that has molecularly characterized over 11,000 cancer patients across 33 cancer types. In order to share knowledge generated by this program, Persistent has been co-organizing TCGA conferences and workshops in India since 2019, offering researchers opportunities to learn directly from TCGA faculty members and other experts from the field.

The most recent conference, in December of 2020, was aimed to deliberate on the vision, design, and plans of the Indian Cancer Genome Atlas (ICGA) – a program inspired by TCGA. The primary aim of ICGA is to create indigenously developed, open-source, comprehensive molecular profiles of all cancers prevalent in the Indian population. Specifically, the goal is to characterize the genomic, transcriptomic, epigenetic, and proteomic features of Indian cancer patients using advanced, next-generation multi-omics technologies. In this public health effort, high-quality meta-data, and biospecimens (blood, cancer tissues) representing various clinical scenarios of cancer patients will be ethically collected from various geographical regions of India. Big data generated after multi-omics profiling will be curated and analyzed for correlation with clinical-pathological profiles. This curated database of cancer will be available for the Indian and global cancer research communities.

Persistent Systems has always been at the forefront in leveraging technology for advancement in research and innovation for the healthcare and life sciences domain.  Dr. Anand Deshpande, Founder, Chairman and Managing Director of Persistent Systems was one of the featured hosts and also actively participated in the panel discussions during the event.  As he explained, “This conference brings together the cancer research community on a common platform to accelerate multi-disciplinary, collaborative and nation-wide initiatives that are clinically impactful. The Center for Translational Cancer Research (CTCR) and Indian Cancer Genome Atlas (ICGA) are allied initiatives aimed at tackling the understanding, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer in South Asia. At Persistent Systems, we have always believed in the transformational impact of technology on clinical research and bring our considerable technology expertise to this endeavor.”

But why, you may ask, is there a need for an Indian Cancer Genome Atlas if we already have the TCGA? The primary reason is the difference in the genetic makeup between the population in India and the Western world. Thus, an India-specific cancer database may better help to diagnose, treat, and prevent cancer in India. As we know that cancer is devastating for individuals and families, and is a major health burden on society specially in low-income populations in South Asian countries such as India,  it is the need of the hour to conduct such large-scale studies to gain more insights into this disease and its prevention.

Now that we’ve discussed the need and possible advantages of an India-specific cancer database, we can address the question of how we may begin to define the ICGA- both specifically and in general. The ICGA will be a national initiative for multi-omics profiling of cancers prevalent in the Indian population and will have the following centers to generate, handle, and manage the data effectively:

  • Primary data and sample collection centers in regional cancer hospitals/clinics (based on pan-India consortium)
  • Central biobank and sample processing center
  • Multi-omics data-generation center
  • Database and analytics center

The success of the ICGA will depend on how effectively different centers collaborate – following the principles of ‘Team Science’, and how effectively citizens are engaged. Therefore, communicating the data with each center and sharing the findings to the community will be an important part of the project. As for early goals, one of the first aims could be to characterize breast cancer, the most common cancer affecting women in India.

Overall, the ICGA is a collaborative effort between cancer scientists, researchers, clinicians, data scientists, and technology providers to bring a paradigm shift in translational cancer research and precision medicine in India. Persistent will play a key role in this initiative as a data management and analytics partner.

For more information on the TCGA conference and ICGA, you may visit https://tcga.ctcr.in/about/ or, view the latest featured video panel from the conference here: “Towards Establishment of Multi-Omics Cancer Research Projects in South Asia”.  You may also learn more about how Persistent helps healthcare, medical device, and research progress through data insights at www.persistent.com