A major new database, developed by researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research in London and funded by Cancer Research UK, will use artificial intelligence to help scientists discover new cancer treatments. 

CanSAR is the biggest disease database of its kind in the world, and is capable of holding more information than the Hubble space telescope would gather in a million years of use. It is more than double the size of a previous version, and will cope with a huge expansion of cancer data following advances in technologies such as DNA sequencing, says Cancer Research UK. 

The CanSAR system will make 1.7 billion experimental results available to researchers, pooling knowledge and data in one freely-accessible resource. Information stored in the database will be analysed by technology similar to that used to predict weather and will allow researchers to predict potential targets for anticancer drugs in the future, says the charity.

Research that has previously taken months to complete will now take only minutes, adds the ICR.

Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani led the team which developed CanSAR. She says that it uses findings from laboratories, patient research, genetics and chemistry studies to perform “extraordinarily complex virtual experiments. It can spot opportunities for future cancer treatments that no human eye could be expected to see.” 

CanSAR now contains over 8 million experimentally-derived measurements, nearly 1 million biologically-active chemical compounds and data from over 1,000 cancer cell lines. It also contains drug target information from the human genome and model organisms.

A smaller-scale prototype of CanSAR has attracted 26,000 users in more than 70 countries, and earlier this year helped to identify 48 previously-overlooked drug treatment possibilities for cancer molecules.

“The CanSAR database makes it easy for scientists around the world to tap into huge amounts of information, from the lab and the clinic, to fuel new discoveries. The clues we need to tackle cancer are hidden in data like this and by making it freely available, we can boost our progress and make breakthroughs sooner,” said Nell Barrie, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK.