Watson dives into genomics data

Will uncover patterns in sequencing and medical data, help speed cancer research
By Mike Miliard
06:00 AM
IBM's Watson at New York Genome Center to help boost cancer care.

The latest deployment of IBM's cognitive computing technology is at the New York Genome Center, where Watson will help oncologists speed their research for personalized cancer care.

[See also: Watson heads to medical school]

In Watson's first foray into genomic research, the initiative will focus on glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer that kills more than 13,000 people in the U.S. each year.

Specifically, the project seeks to help clinicians bring faster DNA-based treatment options to their patients -- a process that's severely slowed by the need to correlate data from genome sequencing to medical journals, research studies and clinical records.

[See also: Watson joins the fight against cancer]

NYGC is a consortium of academic, medical and industry leaders including Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Columbia University, Cornell University/Weill Cornell Medical College, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and others.

At a time when medical information is doubling every five years, the NYGC will deploy Watson to help speed up this complex process, identifying patterns in genome sequencing and medical data to unlock insights that will help clinicians bring the promise of genomic medicine to their patients.

"Since the human genome was first mapped more than a decade ago, we've made tremendous progress in understanding the genetic drivers of disease," said Robert Darnell, MD, president and scientific director of the NYGC, in a press statement. "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.

Watson, he said, could help "revolutionize genomics and accelerate the opportunity to improve outcomes for patients with deadly diseases by providing personalized treatment."

The cloud-based technology will analyze genetic data along with comprehensive biomedical literature and drug databases, say IBM officials. Able to "learn" as it encounters new patient scenarios, and as more information becomes available through research and clinical studies, Watson will complement rapid genome sequencing and is expected to dramatically reduce the time it takes to correlate an individual's genetic mutations with medical literature, study findings, and therapeutic indications.

"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 innovations like Watson," said John E. Kelly III, senior vice president and director of IBM Research, in a statement.

"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."