It Beat Jeopardy, Now It’s Taking on Cancer.


IBM WatsonIBM recently announced that its Watson supercomputer, which grew to fame on the TV game show Jeopardy, will be teaming up with the New York Genome Center (NYGC) to help doctors develop personalized treatments for cancer patients based on their genetic makeup.

Genetic information obtained though genome sequencing has the potential to help clinicians tailor treatment for individual cancer patients. However, one of the primary challenges of genome sequencing in the clinical setting is the processing and analysis of the tremendous amounts of data that are generated. The Watson supercomputer could be of tremendous help in this effort.

“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 before us is how to make sense of massive quantities of genetic data and translate that information into better treatments for patients. Applying the cognitive computing power of Watson is going to revolutionize genomics and accelerate the opportunity to improve outcomes for patients with deadly diseases by providing personalized treatment.” Robert Darnell, M.D., Ph.D., CEO, President and Scientific Director of the NYGC, said in a statement.

Initially, NYGC will be using Watson’s ability to help oncologists develop more personalized care for patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive malignant brain cancer. More than 13,000 people in the US die of glioblastoma each year, and clinicians lack the tools to uncover effective DNA-based treatment options for their patients with glioblastoma.

The tumors of cancer patients contain unique genetic variations or mutations. The Watson supercomputer will be used to identify patterns in these variations and medical data of glioblastoma patients. Medical professionals will use this information to identify treatment options that can be tailored to individual cancer patients and possibly uncover new treatment alternatives. The supercomputer will also help NYGC scientists to expand their understanding of data involving differences in gene sequence variations that are present in normal and cancerous biopsies.

“With this knowledge, doctors will be able to attack cancer and other devastating diseases with treatments that are tailored to the patient’s and disease’s own DNA profiles. If successful, this will be a major transformation that will help improve the lives of millions of patients around the world,” Dr. John E. Kelly III, Senior Vice President and Director of IBM Research, said in a statement.
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