IBM supercomputer Watson enlisted to help fight brain cancer
Watson, IBM’s supercomputer that famously took on Jeopardy, is now taking on something a little less trivia-oriented – brain cancer.
IBM is working with the New York Genome Center (NYGC) to analyze genetic data to push towards personalized treatment of brain cancer. Specifically, the supercomputer is being used to go through data from a select group of patients diagnosed with glioblastoma, one of the most aggressive and malignant brain tumors known to medicine.
“With a decade of research and development behind it, the Watson prototype is IBM’s first solution specifically targeted at interpreting data from genomic data,” according to a release from IBM. “By analyzing gene sequence variations between normal and cancerous biopsies of brain tumors, Watson will then be used to review medical literature and clinical records to help clinicians consider a variety treatments options tailored to an individual’s specific type and personalized instance of the cancer.”
Glioblastoma is also one of the most common form of brain cancer, and kills more than 13,000 Americans every year.
“Since the human genome was first mapped more than a decade ago, we’ve made tremendous progress in understanding the genetic drivers of disease. The real challenge has been making sense of massive quantities of genetic data and translating research findings into better treatments and outcomes for patients,” according to Dr. Robert Darnell, the CEO, president and scientific director of the NYGC. “Applying the cognitive computing power of Watson is going to revolutionize genomics and accelerate the opportunity to target personalized care for deadly diseases like cancer.”
With glioblastoma, time is crucial. A normal diagnosis usually gives a patient about a year to live, depending on the stage and spread of the cancer. Using Watson’s incredible speed, doctors are exploring how to rapidly make decisions regarding treatment options.
"As genomic research progresses and information becomes more available, we aim to make the process of analysis much more practical and accessible through cloud-based, cognitive systems like Watson," says Dr. John E. Kelly, the senior vice president and director of IBM Research. "With this knowledge, doctors will be able to attack cancer and other devastating diseases with treatments that are tailored to the patient’s and a disease’s own DNA profiles. This is a major transformation that can help improve the lives of millions of patients around the world.”
This is a major step for the marriage of technology and medicine, where a supercomputer can help figure out treatment based on the specific DNA of a patient’s disease.