Big Data news: University of Texas pulls plug on IBM Big Data project

Amid spiralling costs, university puts collaboration with IBM on hold indefinitely

24/02/2017: University of Texas pulls plug on Big Data project

A multi-million dollar collaboration between the University of Texas's MD Anderson Cancer Center and IBM has been put on hold after costs spiralled out of control.

The system, known as the Oncology Expert Advisor (OEA), was intended to apply IBM Watson's analytic capabilities to existing medical records for lung cancer and leukemia patients. The results of the AI's analysis would then allow clinicians "to offer care advice and match patients with clinical trials", according to an audit paper produced by the university.

"The ultimate goal, as described by project leader Lynda Chin, M.D., former chair of the MD Anderson Department of Genomic Medicine and current UT system associate vice chancellor for health transformation and chief innovation officer for health affairs, is to elevate the standard of cancer care world-wide," the audit document said.

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The two organisations signed their first contract in June 2012. In the following four years, $62.1 million was spent on the project, but it has neither been put into clinical use, nor piloted outside of the MD Anderson Cancer Center. It has also not been upgraded to support the organisation's latest patient record system, meaning the only data it has available is out of date.

In addition to these technical difficulties, the audit also lays out several concerns with the tender, contract and procurement processes. It also claims that, as Chin didn't believe this was an IT project, it wasn't subject to the normal IT development policies and processes either.

However, the audit paper does say that "results stated herein should not be interpreted as an opinion on the scientific basis or functional capabilities of the system in its current state". 

OEA is not completely dead - MD Anderson Cancer Center is apparently looking for new vendors to replace IBM and revive the initiative.

IBM, however, has defended its involvement and technology, telling Forbes: "The OEA R&D project was a success, and likely could have been deployed had MD Anderson chosen to take it forward."

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