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Quantum computing to help with cancer treatments

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The German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) will use the Ehningen-based quantum computer to develop cancer treatment methods specific to each patient.

“We want to explore how we can systematically process and use patients’ heterogeneous data with a quantum computer, so that we can identify new and more targeted options for patients who do not respond so well to immunotherapies. Ultimately, we are asking which patient can benefit from which treatment and how,” says Dr. Niels Halama, Head of Department of Translational Immunotherapy at DKFZ. “Linked to this topic are some applied research questions: Which signalling cascades and biological processes play a role in the disease? How can we use these to select a treatment on an individual basis? What kinds of problems actually lend themselves to being solved by quantum computers?”

Cancer patients’ medical records can often comprise up to 100 terabytes of data, that consists of personal indicators, sequencing and treatment data, and a lot more. Up to now, it has been virtually impossible to use this wealth of information efficiently due to a lack of appropriate processing mechanisms. As a result, the possibility of using promising personalised treatment approaches remains purely theoretical for many cancers, and patients are still receiving standard treatments.

The DKFZ team has already worked out the mathematical principles and carried out some initial work using other globally available systems and simulators. According to Halama, however, there is a huge difference between working on a simulator with perfect qubits and working on a real quantum computer such as IBM Q System One in Ehningen. It is only with the latter that you can see how stable things are at a certain level of complexity, where the pitfalls are and the possibilities.

The researchers hope the Ehningen will help develop algorithms suitable for processing all this information, but also to optimise certain methods, such as error corrections, for example.

DKFZ is now looking for cooperation partners from different research and industry fields to enter into an interdisciplinary investigation of the possibilities of quantum computing in cancer treatments.

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