Researchers getting closer to better cancer screening methods

Professor Joakim Dillner

Researchers getting closer to better cancer screening methods

The Nordic Information for Action eScience Centre (NIASC) works to improve social preconditions to health in the Nordic region. On 12 January 2016 the centre held its third annual meeting to exchange experience, review its status and to look ahead to the coming three years.

The NIASC, one of three Nordic Centres of Excellence under NordForsk’s Nordic eScience Globalisation Initiative (NeGI), launched its research activities at the beginning of 2014. The annual meetings are essential for the activities of this geographically dispersed centre, which comprises 16 partners from the Nordic countries, Estonia and Poland. This year about 40 researchers and research students convened at the University of Copenhagen’s Panum Building to present their research to one another.

Recent developments

Centre Director, Professor Joakim Dillner of Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, spoke of the centre’s accomplishments of the past year. “All positions have been filled – including Ph.D. students, post-doctoral research fellows and bioinformaticians – so we have a full team in place that can perform solid, Nordic-based work. Some of the most interesting achievements of our employees, and which are also closest to implementation by users, include IT support to make at-home gynaecological cell sampling possible and IT support to limit the adverse effects of prostate cancer screening. Looking at the milestones we have set for this project, I think that recruitment and mobility in particular have surpassed expectations. Some employees have been given positions in a Nordic country other than their own.”

Topics during the day included: how patient journals can be used to detect patterns in relationships between different diseases; paving the way for improved, individually tailored medicine and individualised treatment; how to refine computer models to ensure that people are invited to precisely those cancer screenings they need; how the health care system can encourage women to come in for cervical cancer screening when they have not responded to such invitations for more than 10 years; an app that provides information about cervical cancer screening in a game format; and, how to adapt the highly successful Danish biobank registry system for use in all the Nordic countries.

The NIASC management also met with the centre’s international Scientific Advisory Board to enable the external experts to stay up-to-date.

Nordic synergy

The overall objective of the NIASC is to develop eScience tools that can improve health and the social preconditions to health. One major objective is to develop and refine algorithms to assess risks of breast, prostate, colorectal and cervical cancer, which may ultimately lead to better cancer screening programmes.

“There is a need for Nordic synergy in this field, particularly when it comes to training and mobility,” continues Professor Dillner, who goes on to describe some of the unplanned synergies that have emerged over the past two years:

“We have formed an active Nordic network which has led to some very important things we had not actually planned on. But fortunately, once contact between researchers is established, it creates its own momentum and direction. For example, the Icelandic cervical cancer screening programme has begun to send all its samples of HPV virus to Sweden because they have discovered that it is simply more cost-effective to have them examined there. This would not have happened without the network created through NordForsk’s NIASC project. Another example is the Danish initiative for a national registry of laboratory data, which is internationally innovative and which may be possible to adapt to Swedish conditions. We probably would not have hit upon the idea for it if we had not met our Danish colleagues through the centre,” concludes Professor Dillner.

In the autumn of 2016 the NeGI programme will host a large-scale, comprehensive conference for all the projects it funds, to create further synergies in the eScience field. The conference will also serve as a mid-term meeting and evaluation of the three Nordic Centres of Excellence. 



Text: Linn Hoff Jensen

Photo: NordForsk/Kim Wendt

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