Watson joins the fight against cancer

IBM supercomputer goes to work at MD Anderson
By Mike Miliard
10:16 AM
IBM Watson MD Anderson

First he won on Jeopardy!, now he's going to try to beat leukemia. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center announced Friday that it will deploy Watson, IBM's famed cognitive computing system, to help eradicate cancer.

The two organizations will leverage Watson's computing power to help clinicians uncover insights from MD Anderson's vast patient and research databases, officials say. After a yearlong collaboration, the two will showcase a prototype of MD Anderson's Oncology Expert Advisor, powered by Watson.

That technology seeks to integrate the knowledge of MD Anderson's clinicians and researchers, and to advance the cancer center's goal of treating patients with the most effective, safe and evidence-based standard of care available, say officials. Starting with the fight against leukemia, the Oncology Expert Advisor aims to help clinicians develop and fine-tune treatment plans for patients, while helping them recognize adverse events that may occur throughout the care continuum.

"One unique aspect of the MD Anderson Oncology Expert Advisor is that it will not solely rely on established cancer care pathways to recommend appropriate treatment options," said Lynda Chin, MD, professor and chair of genomic medicine and scientific director of the Institute for Applied Cancer Science at MD Anderson, in a press statement.

"The system was built with the understanding that what we know today will not be enough for many patients," she added. "Therefore, our cancer patients will be automatically matched to appropriate clinical trials by the Oncology Expert Advisor. Based on evidence as well as experiences, our physicians can offer our patients a better chance to battle their cancers by participating in clinical trials on novel therapies."

First in Watson's sights: leukemia, which causes nearly one-third of all cancer deaths in children and adolescents younger than 15 years, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

The technology is expected to be accessible to the cancer center's network of clinicians through a computer interface and supported mobile devices, say MD Anderson officials. This provides clinicians – and in turn, patients – with immediate, worldwide access to MD Anderson's expertise and resources, and to IBM Watson's technology prowess in quickly extracting crucial insights from large volumes of complex data.

With more than 100,000 patients cared for each year, MD Anderson has amassed a huge trove of clinical oncology data, but extracting usable insights from it all has proven difficult. Watson will try to extract and make sense of crucial information that might be otherwise trapped in databases, or in the electronic medical records of other providers.

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