IBM Watson prescribed by doctors to fight aggressive brain cancer

Artificial intelligence service used to speed up genetic data analysis and provide personalised patient care.

IBM's artificial intelligence offering Watson has been enlisted by the New York Genome Centre (NYGC) to help research treatment methods for aggressive forms of brain cancer.

The NYGC plans to use a cloud-based Watson prototype to evaluate the technology's ability to help oncologists provide bespoke medical care to patients suffering from a malignant form of brain cancer called glioblastoma.

Patients with the condition tend to fare better if they receive treatment that is tailored to the specific gene mutations that cause the cancer, but this can take time to set up.

This is because providing this level of care requires data from a variety of sources including genome sequencing projects and medical journals to be collated first.

The deployment marks the first time Watson's expertise have been applied to the field of genomics, and it's hoped the technology will enable the data collation process to be sped up by uncovering useful patterns in the data faster.

In this scenario, Watson will be used to analyse genetic data, biomedical studies and drug databases to shape care plans, while his cognitive abilities will enable him to tailor his responses based on patient experiences.

Robert Darnell, CEO and president of the New York Genome Centre, said the medical community has made great progress in understanding the genetic causes of disease in recent years.

"The real challenge before us is how to make sense of massive quantities of genetic data, connect that quickly to all available biomedical literature and translate that information into better treatments for patients," said Darnell.

"Applying the cognitive computing power of Watson is going to revolutionise genomics and accelerate the opportunity to improve outcomes for patients with deadly diseases by providing personalised treatment."

John E. Kelly, senior vice president and director of IBM Research, said Watson's aim is to make the genomic information available to clinicians easier to analyse and learn from.

 "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," he said.

"If successful, this will be a major transformation that will help improve the lives of millions of patients around the world."

Watson differs from other forms of AI because it is not able to recall and apply facts to problems, but it does have the capacity to learn from its mistakes.

However, finding commercial applications for the technology has its challenges, but Watson has already been adopted by a handful of healthcare-focused firms, including MD Buyline and insurance provider Wellpoint.

Even so, IBM has reportedly set its sights on using the technology to generate $1 billion of revenue a year by 2018.

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