Organizing Data to Improve the Lives of Breast Cancer Patients

Hello BRIGHT Run Family, 

Hope you all are doing well. 

In some of my previous letters to you, I discussed building foundations. I am happy to be a part of such a foundation that was laid down by a multi-disciplinary team formed under the vision and leadership of my collaborators and mentors, Dr. Jeremy Petch and Dr. Mark Levine. Yes, of course, it is related to breast cancer, and it will facilitate research for breast cancer. 

A scholarly report on building this foundation was recently published in the JCO Journal of Clinical Cancer Informatics (Developing a Data and Analytics Platform to Enable a Breast Cancer Learning Health System at a Regional Cancer Center | JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics)

You will find upon reading the work, that this is a huge endeavour undertaken by a very big team comprising of CREATE (Center for Data Science and Digital Health) team members at Hamilton Health Sciences, clinicians and researchers in the Department of Oncology, and Pentavere, the industry partner. The outcome of this work is a data and analytics platform that can enable a learning health system for breast cancer at Hamilton Health Sciences.  

A breast cancer patient treated at the Juravinski Cancer Centre (JCC) provides invaluable information that has the potential to generate and answer research-related questions, and therefore, can shape the future of breast cancer research and treatment. The amount of data generated from the breast cancer patients at JCC is rich in quantity, content, and diversity.  

Diverse types of information are stored across different information systems (e.g., ‘Meditech’ stores clinical data on patient demographics and encounters in the hospital, ‘Powerscribe’ stores radiology reports). Furthermore, a lot of this data is in the form of free text (e.g., clinical notes, radiology reports, pathology reports) that needs organization and understanding to be used in subsequent analyses. 

This is where the data and analytics platform plays a big role – it brings this data (heterogeneous, mostly unstructured, and shared across multiple systems) under one system in a deidentified (assures patient privacy), organized and structured (arranged in appropriate tables) manner. It performs this task every day. A researcher can use this actionable data (ready to be worked upon) to answer appropriate research questions for breast cancer patients. 

While I am happy to be a part of this work, I am happier at the prospects of this platform as I begin to collaborate with my clinical colleagues to make use of this platform to improve the lives of breast cancer patients and survivors. 

Stay well and enjoy the BRIGHT sunny days! 



Dr. Ashirbani Saha is the first holder of the BRIGHT Run Breast Cancer Learning Health System Chair, a permanent research position established by the BRIGHT Run in partnership with McMaster University.