CIViC: The Wikipedia of cancer research

Cancer researchers have collected vast amounts of new data, but this information is dispersed in many different places. A team from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has developed an online encyclopedia to store the data on cancer genomics and make it readily available to clinicians.

The online platform, called Clinical Interpretations of Variants in Cancer (CIViC), is explained in Nature Genetics.

"It's relatively easy now to sequence the DNA of tumors—to gather the raw information—but there's a big interpretation problem," said senior author Obi L. Griffith, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine. "What do these hundreds or thousands of mutations mean for this patient? There are a lot of studies being done to answer these questions. But oncologists trying to interpret the raw data are faced with an overwhelming task of plumbing the literature, reading papers, trying to understand what the latest studies tell them about these mutations and how they may or may not be important."

Similar to Wikipedia, CIViC is an open platform where anyone can contribute to the content and use the source code. Before information is posted to the public, the information (and edits to current information) must be paired with the agreement of two independent contributors with one being an expert editor.

"We are committed to keeping this resource open and available to anyone who wants to contribute or make use of the information," said Malachi Griffith, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine. "We would like it to be a community exercise and public resource. The information is in the public domain. There are no restrictions on its use, academic or commercial."

Currently, the platform has over 17,500 users from a variety of organizations around the world. Some 59 of the users have volunteered their time to add descriptions of clinical relevance of 732 mutations from 285 genes for 203 types of cancer, all steaming from a review of 1,090 scientific and medical publications.

"We're just scratching the surface of the potential this holds for precision medicine," said Griffith. "There's a lot of work to do."