One of the obstacles standing in the way of cancer research progress is the presence of research silos. In this article, we explain what these silos are, how data sharing can help accelerate discovery and innovation, and what M2GEN—an oncology-focused health informatics solutions company—is doing to break down silos and encourage collaboration among researchers. So what are research silos? A research silo (sometimes referred to as a “data silo” or “information silo”) is a collection of data that’s controlled by one department and kept isolated from other departments within the same organization (as well as from other institutions within the same industry). The term “research silo” stems from agricultural or farm silos, which keep grains, seeds, and other bulk materials separated from outside elements. With regard to cancer care, specifically, research silos commonly develop between:
- Inpatient care providers
- Outpatient care providers
All of these departments work for the same organization, yet they often end up having access to different sets of data because they operate in different locations, use different hardware and software, and follow different processes.
In addition to limiting the amount of data that each department can access, this can also threaten the integrity of each data set. For example, if a cancer center’s outpatient providers update a patient’s records within their own system, but that new information isn’t shared with the institution’s inpatient providers (or vice versa), the two departments won’t have access to the same medical history, which could compromise the patient’s future care. Excessive compartmentalization can also hinder communication between departments, resulting in missed opportunities for collaboration among key players in the fight against cancer.
The Benefits of Data Sharing
Given how common it is for research silos to naturally develop, it’s important to take affirmative steps to break down the walls of these silos and provide outside departments and organizations with access to the data contained therein. This is especially true in the context of cancer research, where institutions from around the world are working toward the common goal of discovering how to better prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat harmful malignancies.
Sharing research data among multiple cancer care departments and organizations can:
- Encourage new scientific breakthroughs, since researchers will have access to a more robust dataset
- Increase efficiency, as researchers won’t need to expend valuable time and resources collecting and storing the same type of data
- Minimize disparities in cancer research, so long as the shared data includes information from previously underrepresented patient populations
All of this, together, can lead to more personalized cancer care and improved patient outcomes.
How We’re Breaking Down Research Silos & Encouraging Collaboration
Since being founded in 2006, M2GEN—an oncology-focused health informatics solutions company—has diligently worked to accelerate the discovery, development, and delivery of precision cancer therapies. We understand the difficulties that research silos can impose, so to help break down their walls, we facilitate the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network® (ORIEN®). This first-of-its-kind alliance includes leading cancer centers from across the United States.
Collecting, Standardizing & Disseminating Data
As was explained above, sharing data is a key component in breaking down research silos. Once consenting patients at ORIEN member institutions enroll in our IRB-approved Total Cancer Care® (TCC) protocol, we share their de-identified genomic and longitudinal clinical data with other ORIEN members, researchers, and biopharmaceutical companies. Since 2014, we’ve collected information from more than 325,000 patients, making our database one of the largest and most comprehensive registries in the world.
In addition to sharing this data, we also make it easier for researchers to effectively process and analyze the disseminated information. The National Cancer Institute’s Center for Biomedical Informatics & Information Technology has explained why it is so important to standardize raw data before supplying it to researchers:
To answer more complex scientific questions by a greater breadth of stakeholders, we need standards and systems that are up to this challenge. Pooling data from numerous sources strengthens the power of the information, but only if it can be meaningfully connected. Merely aggregating the data is not generally useful in itself. A firm foundation is needed so the petabytes of data generated from cancer research can be combined, analyzed, and turned into knowledge that’s useful to the broader research community.
At M2GEN, we’ve developed numerous tools that help efficiently process large volumes of patient data before it’s delivered to cancer researchers. For instance, our cutting-edge ORIEN Avatar data product builds comprehensive genotypic and phenotypic profiles of consenting patients while using an avatar to shield their identity.
Creating Opportunities for Collaboration Among ORIEN Members
Encouraging different departments and organizations to interact with one another also helps break down research silos. At M2GEN, we understand the importance of collaboration, and that’s why we regularly coordinate research interest group meetings and investigator meetings, as well as an annual scientific retreat. When ORIEN members attend these gatherings, they have the chance to exchange ideas, identify unmet needs that still need to be addressed, and discuss opportunities for collaboration on future research initiatives.
M2GEN is committed to breaking down research silos and bringing together leaders in oncology in order to improve outcomes and quality of life for cancer patients around the globe. Learn more about ORIEN, our products or services and contact us today.