IBM's Watson joins N.Y. Genome Center to aid cancer care

The supercomputer will speed-read medical literature to quickly identify medical care. Brain-tumor patients will be the first to get the tech treatment.

The New York Genome Center on Wednesday launched a research project with IBM Watson that will also make the tech company a member of the center, a consortium of 16 New York-area institutions.

Watson—a supercomputer with advanced artificial intelligence capabilities, famed for winning Jeopardy! in 2011—will be used to identify treatments for cancer patients more quickly.

The process to identify potential treatments once a cancer mutation has been spotted can often take a long time, said Raminder Singh, a researcher with IBM.

"Today, you have to be extremely meticulous in looking at different types of options for these mutations," Singh said. "You have to go to a medical institution, read a bunch of papers, and then find several things that are of use."

By having Watson read the medical literature, a clinician can arrive at a decision and start treatment sooner.

The first patients will be those newly diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most common type of brain tumor, at seven member institutions of the Genome Center. Dr. Robert Darnell, the Genome Center's chief executive and scientific director, hopes to enroll about 20 patients from each institution and begin the study in the next few months. The project has received institutional review board approval, Dr. Darnell said.

A glioblastoma patient lives just 15 months after a diagnosis, which gives added importance to finding treatments at the outset.

"We have to mix the technology with the urgency of time," Darnell said. "With Watson, we can identify things that otherwise can't be done in a timely way."

If the Watson project is successful, IBM's Singh noted, the same approach could be used to address population-health issues.

Watson has a history of medical uses. In 2012, clinicians at Memorial Sloan-Kettering "taught" the computer to review oncological case histories. The following year Watson created a medical decision-making tool through a business partnership between IBM, Memorial Sloan-Kettering and WellPoint.

"IBM's Watson joins Genome Center to cure cancer" originally appeared on the website of Crain's New York Business.



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