Kiley Graim, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the University of Florida department of computer & information science & engineering, has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to build a first-of-its-kind database and study genomic information from a wide range of animals to gain insight into the mechanisms of rare human cancers.
The database built by Graim and her team will include genetic information on a large range of cancers from 250 species in one searchable source. Once constructed, Graim hopes to use machine learning tools to increase researchers’ understanding of the factors that initiate cancer and cause its progression.
“The more data you have, the better it works,” Graim said. “Through this project, we are linking medical and genomic data from humans with genetic data from veterinary and conservation databases to create something that works for everyone. While most of this information already exists, it is siloed, making analysis across species difficult.”
Through this project, Graim and her team hope their easy-to-use online database will help identify new therapeutic targets for rare cancers by creating connections that could not be made before.
Once the database is complete, researchers, including Graim, will use machine learning tools to detect patterns of cancer emergence and cancer resistance. For the first time, researchers will be able to compare the same tumor type across species or compare new samples to high-quality reference genomes. This flexible approach offers researchers like Graim new ways to study the evolutionary and genetic underpinnings that form the cornerstones of cancer initiation and progression.
“This is the first time a project like this has taken place, and we are excited to be a part of it,” Graim said. “This is a project that I have wanted to work on since I started my career, and we plan on working on this for a long time.”