Fighting cancer with code. We’re on it.

Machine learning joins humanity’s fight against cancer, bringing us one step closer to personalized vaccines.

There’s a unique code written in the cancer cells of every patient’s body. And that data can be key to developing life-saving personalized cancer vaccines. But how can we decipher the code? Researchers at Waterloo’s Cheriton School of Computer Science have enlisted an unlikely ally in the quest: machine learning. 

Machine learning

is a subfield of artificial intelligence (AI). It focuses on the development of computer programs and algorithms that enable computers to learn and make predictions or decisions from data. (IBM)


is a short chain of amino acids linked together by chemical bonds (National Human Genome Health Institute)

Amino acid

the building blocks of proteins, and when they combine in a specific sequence, they form peptides and proteins (National Human Genome Health Institute)

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Every patient is different and every cancer is different, so cancer treatment shouldn’t be the same for all.

Dr. Ming Li

Ming Li standing in front of a blackboard

Dr. Ming Li is a professor at the Cheriton School of Computer Science, University of Waterloo. Li and his team are applying AI and deep learning to develop tools that detect short peptides and neoantigens on the surface of a cancer cell using mass spectrometer paving the way for new cancer drugs and treatments. 

Chain of amino acid or bio molecules called protein - 3d illustration

Life-saving machine learning model

DeepNovo – Li and team’s new machine learning model – uses computer programs that can learn from data. DeepNovo analyzes data from mass spectrometry, looking for patterns in the fragments of peptides to solve complex peptide sequencing challenges. The more thorougher we discover peptides from the cancer cell surface, the easier it will be to develop therapeutic drugs or treatments for medical conditions, like cancer. DeepNovo is ground-breaking because it can be trained to work with different types of data sources, paving the way for cancer vaccines personalized to every patient. 

Health futures

Rapid technological progress is reshaping healthcare on a global and personal level. Waterloo is harnessing our expertise where health, society, technology, and entrepreneurship converge, collaborating with partners on ground-breaking innovations that propel health and healthcare systems forward for everyone.

Read on to discover more ways Waterloo is on it.

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