VANCOUVER – BC Cancer and Microsoft Canada have established a game-changing partnership that is answering cancer’s most complex questions at a rate never thought possible. Fuelled by advances in molecular biology, genomics and computer science, BC Cancer researchers are applying a radically investigative approach known as single cell genomics to analyze the millions of individual cells that make up cancer, made possible by cloud computing. Together, BC Cancer’s single cell genomics expertise and Microsoft’s innovative computing resources will accelerate the pace of research to understand cancer at a granular level, and bring hope to British Columbians facing cancer. 

“We have taken a unique approach to try to dissect cancer to its most elemental level through single cell genomics. Partnering with Microsoft has empowered our group to analyze hundreds of thousands of individual cancer cells with the Azure cloud computing platform,” says Dr. Sohrab Shah, senior scientist, BC Cancer, and co-leader of the project. “For us, this technology gives us an unprecedented look inside a tumour – like looking into a microscope for the first time. We’re able to see the genomes of single cells, which reveals the cellular makeup of individual cancers. Through the cloud we can store, analyze and share this data with the international research community.”

Thanks to innovations in molecular biology, biophysics, microfluidics and DNA sequencing, single cell genomics can capture cancer mutations at the highest resolution. This level of detail will enable targeted and specific combinations of treatments for individuals, based on the unique characteristics of their cancer. The valuable information gathered and stored in the cloud will allow researchers to predict how individual cells within a patient’s tumour will respond to chemotherapy.

For patients, this means a more precise understanding of their cancer at diagnosis with a targeted treatment plan that is the most effective for them, and ultimately, more time.

“New technology will play an important role in accelerating breakthroughs in all types of research, including cancer research,” says President of Microsoft Brad Smith. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that AI will help cure cancer – and researchers right here in B.C. will play an important part. We are proud to join BC Cancer in their mission to expand patient access to care, enable research collaboration and better understand and treat cancer.”

This unique partnership between BC Cancer and Microsoft is the first of its kind to incorporate a platform that can process genomic sequencing at an unparalleled rate and utilize the cloud for unlimited storage and knowledge sharing.

The team at BC Cancer led by Dr. Samuel Aparicio, distinguished scientist and Dr. Sohrab Shah, senior scientist and their colleagues are leading the way in which technology, science and health care can marry to build the world’s largest, highly detailed international single-cell genomics database – a data-rich resource that will form a massive and powerful foundation for advanced computing.

“Our project would not be possible without this partnership. Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure and Azure platform are essential, and because of these programs, we see promise in changing the outcomes for many Canadians,” says Dr. Samuel Aparicio, distinguished scientist, BC Cancer.

BC Cancer has operated at the cutting edge of the field in developing and applying algorithms and statistical models to interpret the evolutionary properties of cancer.

In partnership with colleagues at BC Cancer’s Genome Sciences Centre, Dr. Shah and Dr. Aparicio also plan to generate millions of whole genomes in the next three years, each with ~100,000 genomic features that will be analyzed, stored and shared that will accelerate further research on the data the team is generating.  

“Our generous donors believe in the astounding work of talented computer scientists and researchers at BC Cancer. With this cutting-edge partnership we will be able to more accurately answer critical questions like ‘what are my chances?’ and drastically change outcomes for patients facing this disease,” says Sarah Roth, president & CEO, BC Cancer Foundation.

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About the BC Cancer Foundation

As the fundraising partner of BC Cancer and the largest charitable funder of cancer research in this province, the BC Cancer Foundation works with 90,000 donors and communities to advance research and enhance care for the people of B.C. Together, BC CAN change the outcome for each person facing this disease. BC CAN break down cancer.

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

Media contact:

Hayley Judge
Communications Specialist
BC Cancer Foundation
d: 604.707.5907
e: hayley.judge@bccancer.bc.ca