MD Anderson and UT Austin collaboration to end cancer welcomed enthusiastically by state and federal stakeholders

A new collaboration combining cancer research with advanced computing and computational modeling techniques received strong engagement and votes of confidence from national scientific leaders in government and academia.

Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, was one of many influential speakers at a symposium held on Thursday to highlight the research objectives of the first five projects funded by a collaboration between The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Oden Institute for Computational Sciences and the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at the University of Texas at Austin. 

“Advanced computing methods and modeling are changing the way we address problems that confront us,” Dr. Droegemeier said. “The possibilities are endless for applying these methods across multiple fields, ranging from engineering to social sciences, chemistry to physics. And biology and cancer research are no exceptions.”

This collaboration between UT Austin and MD Anderson will support the development of teams that bring together MD Anderson’s oncology expertise and data with novel mechanism-based computational modeling techniques led by researchers at the Oden Institute and TACC.

The symposium, “Computing, Cancer, Texas – Together, an Opportunity for the World,” was hosted virtually to provide researchers from the funded projects a forum to outline how they will integrate expertise in cancer research, computational and mathematical modeling, and high-performance computing. 

Jay Hartzell, President of UT Austin, has been an enthusiastic supporter of the collaboration since it was first announced in June of this year. “By bringing these three incredible organizations together, we are creating an unprecedented ecosystem for research — where the latest discoveries in medicine and care are combined with unparalleled expertise in computational and mathematical modeling and high-performance computing. Together, we are changing the game when it comes to the fight against cancer and I couldn’t be prouder.”

UT System Chancellor, James B Milliken, has been another key advocate for the collaboration. “UT Austin and MD Anderson are among the best in the world in advanced computing and cancer research and care, and their new collaboration enhances our global leadership position to defeat cancer,” Milliken said. “This is a truly remarkable initiative that will lead to new approaches to save and improve countless lives. It's hard to think of a more powerful example of what can be done when two world-class UT institutions join forces to leverage their talent and vision.”

Over 150 people attended the one-day event that included talks, workshops and panel discussions from leadership at MD Anderson, Oden Institute and TACC as well as key state and national stakeholders, such as the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), the Computational Science Initiative at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the NIH’s National Cancer Institute.  

“As the fusion between oncology expertise, data, and computational modeling expands in practice, I am very much looking forward to how these communities perceive the future research landscape,” said Frank Alexander, Deputy Director of the Computational Science Initiative, Brookhaven National Laboratory. “This event exemplifies how essential it is to bring together several diverse communities to impact cancer care. The integration of biological and medical expertise with high-performance computing and advanced technologies for novel experiments is crucial to accelerating progress.”

As Dr. Droegemeier states, the possibilities for applying computational methods are indeed “endless.” Still it requires significant trust and cooperation from all parties to apply the methods from one discipline successfully into another.

“The integration of advanced computational methods into oncology may suggest a difficult balancing act, but it’s one that great institutions - namely, MD Anderson, UT Austin’s Oden Institute and TACC - will lead by example as seen through the initiative and collaborative nature present in all of the first five research projects,” said Keyvan Farahani, Program Director at the Center for Biomedical Informatics and Information Technology, National Cancer Institute.

The event also served as an opportunity to recognize Texas as a unique hub for expertise based on synergy between advanced computing, mathematical modeling and cancer research and care. Tom Yankeelov, Director of the Center for Computational Oncology at the Oden Institute, noted the role already being played by the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). “Since its inception in 2008, over $2.5 billion has been donated to CPRIT. Clearly Texans care about cancer,” Yankeelov said. 

CPRIT’s own Chief Scientific Officer, James Willson, highlighted the importance of the unique research environment in the state. “Computational models have the potential to transform the future of cancer research through stronger links between cancer expertise and computational scientists with access to Texas’ supercomputing prowess. CPRIT has a clearly defined mission to encourage multi-institutional collaboration, and we will explore ways to better support the synergies between Texas cancer researchers, oncologists and computational scientists.”

Concluding the event, Peter WT Pisters, President of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, stressed the importance of building upon the enthusiasm generated by the symposium.  “This is a terrific opportunity for us to see how this unique collaboration between government and academia can have an extraordinary impact in the field of Oncology and in Texas. By combining faculty talents and resources through co-funded projects, we are fostering a team-science approach and harnessing the powers of data science, computational modeling and cancer research that will help us better understand and solve the complexities of cancer.”