Pooling and harmonizing data to answer questions about cancer

The Challenge 

Many questions about cancer etiology, especially for rare cancers and cancer subtypes, can only be addressed with studies using large sample sizes. As a practical alternative to the challenge of conducting individual studies with the required sample size, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) supports consortia to pool samples from smaller studies to gain sufficient quantities of data and biospecimens to look for risk factors and genetic associations. The NCI turned to Westat for support to several cancer consortia needing to pool data.

Our Solutions 

  • Westat coordinates activities that involve obtaining, pooling, cleaning, and harmonizing data, as well as transferring specimens to a common laboratory. The majority of this work has been done for genome-wide association studies, including studies of pancreatic cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, glioma, and osteosarcoma.
  • Westat developed best practices for collecting phenotypic and specimen data and has coordinated the collection of these data from numerous collaborating studies both domestic and international.
  • We review accompanying data, identify and resolve discrepancies, and track decisions.
  • Westat has carried out the labor-intensive process of harmonizing the data and prepared analytic data sets along with supporting documentation for several of NCI’s consortia. For example, for the NCI Cohort Consortium’s PanScan project, we carried out these activities across multiple project phases for data and specimens from more than 20 studies.
  • To facilitate future collaboration, Westat is building a searchable database to allow researchers to find descriptive information about the data and specimens cancer epidemiology cohorts have collected to assess whether pooled data could potentially be carried out using existing resources.

The Results 

  • Consortia provide a rich resource for cancer research. With pooled, harmonized data, researchers can then begin to identify environmental factors and genetic variants that influence cancer risk.

Our Client 

National Cancer Institute (NCI)