Forty-eight hours of non-stop coding – precious time well spent when you’re pushing the boundaries of tech to improve the lives of children with cancer.
“You have sped up the scientific research on child leukaemia and if this works, we can apply this to all types of cancer.
“You have applied a number of statistical techniques in one weekend that we haven’t had in our whole ten-year medical education.”
When Dutch financial services leader ABN AMRO invited Deloitte Netherlands to take part in its Beyond Banking Hackathon, there was no hesitation. It was a chance to support a major client and test our digital and analytics capabilities. More importantly, the challenge was to use data to help improve treatment prospects for young people with leukaemia.
“We decided to subscribe without even having a team,” explains Martijn Ludwig, a senior manager in Technology Consulting. “We just needed the right people with the right skills who would be willing to spend their whole weekend on coding…”
Four volunteers later, the group joined 40 other teams at the event, which took place in June 2017 at a former sugar factory just outside Amsterdam. Despite not having medical backgrounds, our people – data specialists and a front-end developer – immersed themselves in the task.
They analysed DNA data from 270 children with T-cell leukaemia, a disease that affects the lymphoid system. The data were supplied by the Princess Maxima Centre for paediatric oncology in Utrecht, and the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam. Alongside this, they considered treatment results and looked at why it proved effective in some, rather than all cases. Was it down to the child’s gene’s activity?
Without clinical experience, understanding the data sets wasn’t easy, but joining a lecture given by one of the professors involved was a huge help. And the hard work paid off.
Martijn explains: “We were able to build a model that predicts the best course of treatment for these children, which was something medical scientists were not able to do. Also, our solution is scalable, so can be used for other types of cancer.”
The breakthrough earned the team the event’s Social Impact Award. Now, with backing from the Deloitte Impact Foundation, which helps colleagues in the Netherlands progress initiatives that benefit society, the model is being further developed. Alongside the Erasmus Medical Centre, we are working on a solution for skin cancer. And we're also working on making our research relevant and usable in daily practice for medical specialists, for example, by adding links to specific gene websites and related anti-bodies.
“We really wanted to make an impact on our client and on society and were able to contribute to an issue that concerns us all,” says Carmen Wolvius, one of our Business Analysts who took part in the hackathon. “If we have made a difference to one life, it has been worth it.”