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Computing towards a cure

ORNL will lend computational resources such as its Titan supercomputer to support the Cancer Moonshot effort.

ORNL computational resources, experts support Cancer Moonshot initiative

July 28, 2016 –The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory will add its computational know-how to the battle against cancer through several new projects recently announced at the White House Cancer Moonshot Summit.

The goal of the Cancer Moonshot is to double the rate of progress toward a cure – to make a decade of advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care in five years. During the Cancer Moonshot Summit held June 29th, Vice President Joe Biden highlighted a set of new federal and private sector projects that will accelerate the Cancer Moonshot effort.

DOE, in partnership with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), is launching three pilot projects to bring together nearly one hundred cancer researchers, care providers, computer scientists, and engineers to apply the nation's most advanced supercomputing capabilities to analyze data from preclinical models in cancer, molecular interaction data for RAS, and cancer surveillance data. Four DOE National Laboratories: Argonne, Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge, in conjunction with the NCI Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, will participate in the pilots. 

ORNL will contribute expertise in health care data analytics and computing assets, coordinated through its Health Data Sciences Institute (HDSI). Georgia Tourassi, Director of HDSI, and ORNL researchers will help lead the pilot pertaining to cancer surveillance, but will also be involved in the other pilot projects.

“ORNL brings to the table our world-class resources in high-performance computing, including the Titan supercomputer, as well as leading experts in the data sciences and neutron analysis, to the fight against cancer,” said ORNL’s Joe Lake, deputy for operations at the HDSI.

ORNL will also support a collaboration between DOE and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that applies the national laboratories’ most powerful computational assets and data science expertise to nearly half a million veterans' records from one of the world's largest research cohorts -- genotype data from the VA's Million Veteran Program (MVP) combined with phenotype data from the VA's Corporate Data Warehouse (CDW), as a cornerstone of the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative. This partnership will combine VA’s clinical and genomic data with the labs’ advanced computing infrastructure and analytics to push the frontiers of precision medicine and exascale computing.

“The goal is to partner with the VA to study how genetics affects health,” said ORNL’s Jeremy Archuleta. “This big data project aims to integrate genetics with environment, lifestyle and health information to predict illness and determine the best treatment for diseases important to VA and the nation, such as cancer.”

The first phase of this partnership will focus on cancer, cardiovascular disease and mental health issues, and the resulting platform will create a foundation to accelerate understanding of disease detection, progression, prevention, and treatment by combining and analyzing clinical, environmental and genomic data.

“We are very excited to learn how our existing advanced analytics algorithms can contribute to this national initiative and to co-design future analytics capabilities specific to health science, ” said Tom Potok, who leads ORNL’s Computational Data Analytics group.

Titan is the flagship supercomputer of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the DOE's Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit