Team iCombine: “Our model could make cancer treatment more effective”

Team iCombine wants to create data mining tools that find the best cure for individual cancer patients. With the help of their model, a huge amount of biomedical knowledge could be turned into individualized treatment options, says team leader Jing Tang. 

“Why do patients respond so differently to the same treatment? Why has a patient developed resistance to a drug that was effective earlier? How can we determine what the best treatment is for a particular patient? These are the questions we want to find answers to.

The amount of biomedical data today is so immense that it will enable us to find truly personalized treatment options. However, exhaustive experimentation on all the possible drug combinations for each cancer patient is not possible.

We aim to create a data integration platform that helps translate biomedical data into specific treatment options. Our model gathers patient profiles at the molecular level and uses computational methods to predict the most promising drug combinations for each patient. By doing this, we may achieve a major step forward in the development of medical-oriented informatics tools, which can pave the way for personalized medicine.

As the team name ‘iCombine’ suggests, our team combines experts from different backgrounds in medicine, biology and informatics. We are a multidisciplinary and co-operative group with a mission. We have been working on this topic already for years, but now we feel that it is time to engage the public with it.

We hope to reach the milestones of clinical trials of potential drug combinations within the next five years. The data integration platform has already been established but we are still experimenting to find the optimal parameters. We gather our data mainly from Finland, but our model can be applied everywhere.”

1. Why can your team make the world a better and a more sustainable place?

We can help clinicians find the right drug for the right patient, at the right time. Healthcare costs can be reduced significantly when the diseases are treated more efficiently.

2. If you could work with anyone you wanted to, who would it be?

Tu Youyou, the 2015 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine, does not have a medical degree or a PhD but she discovered artemisinin against malaria. She got the prize at the age of 85 while giving all the credit to her team and the whole nation. There is a lot to be learned from her about how to do great science with a pure heart.

3. What’s the best thing that has come out of science and research so far?

Thanks to the Internet and mobile technologies, scientific communication has been made easier than ever. The barriers of disciplines are now blurring due to the open access of knowledge and data. Personalized medicine has been a challenge but now is the time to tackle it. We can do so by promoting greater collaborations among universities, hospitals and the whole society.

Read more about iCombine here.

Team members:

Jing Tang, team leader, Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), University of Helsinki

Samu Kurki, senior researcher, Auria Biobank, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital

Tero Aittokallio, professor, University of Helsinki

Emma Andersson, post-doctoral researcher, University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Central Hospital

Evgeny Kulesskiy, post-doctoral researcher, University of Helsinki

Ashwini Kumar, PhD student, University of Helsinki

Dimitrios Tsallos, PhD student, University of Helsinki

Muntasir Mamun, PhD student, University of Helsinki

Olli Dufva, PhD student, University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Central Hospital

Mikko Keränen, post-doctoral researcher, University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Central Hospital