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Asia plans first cancer network

Regional initiative will coordinate data sharing and epidemiology.

Cancer researchers from around Asia met in Nanjing, China, last month to hammer out plans for a regional network to coordinate epidemiology data and prevention.

The network would gather data from cancer registries in countries from the Philippines to Turkey ? an area that has two-thirds of the world's population and more than half of its 7.6 million cancer deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization. Most of these nations have registries, but the data are not always accurate or standardized, says Kazuo Tajima, director of the Aichi Cancer Centre Research Institute in Nagoya, Japan, who is one of the meeting's organizers. ?There is currently no way to compare notes,? he says.

The Asian Cancer Registry and Information Network, as it is being mooted, would establish the region's first hub ? probably in Japan ? to hold standardized data, which could then be used for epidemiological research, cancer risk assessment and prevention planning. It would offer some of the less-developed countries in the region a chance to catch up with modern diagnostic techniques and offer comparisons that might help figure out why, for example, incidence of liver cancer is so high in Mongolia.

Cancer education can break down cultural barriers. Credit: Courtesy of UICC-ARO

The network would also offer an opportunity to tease out the role of Asian genes in the development of some cancers and the reaction to particular drugs. ?Most of the data used in cancer studies are from Westerners,? says Sumio Sugano, a genomics specialist at the University of Tokyo who attended the International Union against Cancer (UICC) symposium in Nanjing. ?This is a chance to use Asian data.?

The organizers anticipate difficulties stemming from concerns over the privacy of data. ?We have to move one step at a time,? says Sugano. ?Building trust among researchers is the first step.? Organizers of the meeting hope that the network's activities can bridge some of the animosity present in the historicaly fractious region. The meeting was funded by Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, partly to celebrate the 35th anniversary of normalization of Sino?Japanese diplomatic relations. The next meeting will be in Manila in March.

Norie Kawahara, a research fellow at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo, says the site location, Nanjing, where hundreds of thousands of Chinese were massacred by the Japanese military 70 years ago ? an event that is denied by some right-wing historians in Japan ? was a symbolic choice.

A few years ago, when Kawahara started pushing the idea of a Japan-led Asian network, she says people refused, thinking that it sounded like a return to the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, the euphemistic name that Japan gave to its colonizing activities in the region. She hopes that through such activities as the anti-smoking, anti-cancer campaign she ran in a parallel session at last month's meeting, targeted at Chinese and Japanese children, she can ?use science to rewrite history?.

Tajima is applying for £60 million (US$542,000) over 3 years to push Japan's role as a hub for the network in the future. ?But we won't need gigantic sums of money,? says Malcolm Moore, head of the UICC Asia regional office in Bangkok. ?What is needed is for people to get together and participate.?


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International Union Against Cancer

International Association of Cancer Registries

European Network of Cancer Registries

North American Association of Central Cancer Registries

Inernational Agency for Research on Cancer

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Cyranoski, D. Asia plans first cancer network. Nature 450, 772–773 (2007).

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