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Launching into Data to Cure Cancer

Updated: Aug 22, 2018

By Olivia Baccellieri

Cancer - a word that projects a fear of the unknown, and uncertainty for a person’s future. As a medical diagnosis, cancer can be physically, emotionally and financially draining for a patient and their family. Nearly forty percent of Americans are expected to receive a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lifetime (NIH). Cancer is a health issue that does not discriminate, as it can infect any person regardless of their race, gender identity, or socioeconomic status. With such a sizeable proportion of Americans being directly affected by some form of this illness, one has to ask - what progress are we making, and what progress should we be making to lessen the prevalence of cancer in our country?

In January 2016, President Barack Obama announced the ‘Cancer Moonshot’, an advanced research initiative dedicated to increasing the scientific understanding of cancer in order to improve prevention tactics in our nation’s healthcare system (Hsu). A daunting task, the Moonshot initiative is comprised of a panel of scientists, researchers, and computer scientists who seek to create a more efficient network for doctors in their quest to cure cancer. Cancer patients also play a significant role in the Moonshot framework, as researchers begin to accumulate information regarding successful treatment programs and encoding data to aid future patients.

By establishing such a database, the Moonshot will help to lessen healthcare disparities between differing socioeconomic groups, which was a significant tenant during Obama’s presidency with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Making successful cancer treatments more mainstream beyond expensive clinical trial phases will increase the availability of these methods for medical care. Specifically, researchers within the Moonshot have begun the Genomic Data Commons, a technological program within the National Cancer Institute, in which doctors can upload and review patient data to assist in future diagnoses and treatment plans. This data collection system is incredibly innovative, and has the potential to save thousands, if not millions, of future cancer patients based on molecular studies.

The Moonshot seeks to “advance precision oncology” through targeting cancer treatment with data (Hsu). This is an unprecedented venture in the field of medicine and computer technology, as oncologists are now turning to online data for more information regarding the best treatment for their patients. Increased communication between oncologists throughout the county will allow for more collaboration, and provides the potential for ground-breaking developments in cancer treatment. Currently, only five percent of cancer patients are currently participating in clinical trials (Singer). The Moonshot database would significantly increase the number of patients in clinical trials due to comparing genomic information from patients with similar cancers. When oncologists enter the dimensions and DNA of a tumor, they can greatly increase other doctors’ abilities to register their patients for clinical trials.

Art by Macy Chutoransky

Too many American families have been devastated by a cancer diagnosis. Scientists, oncologists and researchers are now more capable than ever to reduce the widespread effects of cancer. Armed with advanced computer technology, these professionals have a tangible possibility to spread their knowledge to patients and their families. The Moonshot is so named due to the grand possibility, and simultaneous impossibility, that searching for a cure poses. Similar to any space mission, the Moonshot requires several important parts - research, communication, collaboration, and more - which all have the ability to determine the outcome of this project. Can this actually be achieved in the near future?

Due to the recent conception of the Moonshot, it is too soon to quantify the progress of this research program. However, this initiative is incredibly promising due to its immense organization and the dedication of those involved. Although there remains numerous important questions related to cancer, and at times seems completely daunting and insolvable, continuing research is vastly important. Should the Moonshot become largely successful, forty percent of Americans will no longer be living with a cancer diagnosis.While ambitious and perhaps even a fantasy, the Moonshot has already generated significant hope within the fields of medicine, research and technology - and most importantly, has restored some feelings of optimism within patients who are facing difficult health realities.


Singer, D. S. (2016). A U.S. “Cancer Moonshot” to accelerate cancer research. Science Magazine, 1-3.

Hsu, E. (2017). Cancer Moonshot Data and Technology Team: Enabling a National Learning Healthcare System for Cancer to Unleash the Power of Data. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 101(5), 613-615.

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