To develop individually effective treatments against cancer in the future, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) wants to use the quantum computer in Ehningen, Germany, as a partner of the Fraunhofer competence network Quantum Computing.
Cancer patients often accumulate up to 100 terabytes of individual, usually very heterogeneous data in the course of their disease history: Blood and tumor values, personal indicators, sequencing and therapy data, and much more. So far, this information in its abundance can hardly be used efficiently due to a lack of suitable processing mechanisms.
As a result, promising personalized therapy approaches in many cases never get off the drawing board. Instead, patients receive standard treatment. The German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg now wants to advance research in this field with the help of quantum computing.
“We want to explore how we can systematically process and use such heterogeneous data with a quantum computer to find new, more targeted pathways for patients for whom immunotherapies are less effective. Ultimately, the overarching question is: Which patient can benefit from which therapy?” says Dr. Niels Halama, Division Head of Translational Immunotherapy at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and senior physician at the National Center for Tumor Diseases.
Related to this are applied research questions such as: Which signaling cascades and biological processes play a role in the disease? How can we use these for individual therapy selection? Which questions can even be solved by quantum computers?
The DKFZ team has already worked out the mathematical foundations and gained initial experience on other systems available worldwide and on simulators. But Halama says there is a huge difference between working on a simulator with perfect qubits and on a real quantum computer like the IBM Q System One in Ehningen. Only there can you see how stable it runs at a certain level of complexity with pitfalls and what is possible.
On the Ehningen system, the researchers now want to further develop and refine their ideas more hands-on. The task now is to find out which algorithms are suitable for processing information and how they can be adapted or newly developed if necessary. They also want to determine how to optimize error corrections.
Halama attaches great importance to three things when working with the quantum computer: data protection, speed and flexibility. The scientists are still working with test data, but if real patient data is used in the future, “it’s a big plus that the Ehningen quantum computer runs under German data protection law and the data remains local,” he says.
Another important criterion is calculation speed, which could make quantum computing superior to conventional computing in the future. This is critical for cancer patients, since every day counts. Fast decisions are required. Because quantum processors can process data in parallel rather than sequentially, they have the potential to analyze even large amounts of data in a fraction of the time it takes normal computers.