Watson, the computer that became famous for winning Jeopardy!, is in the news again, in its new role as a medical diagnostic genius. The New York Genome Center (NYGC), along with IBM, is using a unique Watson prototype to help oncologists deliver better care to patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain tumor that kills 13,000 people in the US yearly.
Patients with a glioblastoma diagnosis and their doctors often find that their cancer responds to different forms of treatment, depending on what kind of specific genetic mutation has caused the tumor. In the current study, experts at the NYGC are evaluating Watson’s ability to detect these mutations and recommend the most effective form of treatment for patients. To do this, the computer must correlate gene sequencing data with the latest findings from medical journals, clinical data, and new studies that are being published daily, a task that would be extremely time-consuming for human researchers in cases where there is no time to lose.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about how Watson goes through the complex research process is its ability to continually “learn” by incorporating new patient cases and medical findings into its database. Watson’s ability to tailor treatment recommendations faster and more accurately will increase over time, which could prove to be lifesaving for a large number of cancer patients.
The NYGC’s glioblastoma study is just the first step in opening new possibilities and opportunities to use medical “big data” to deliver more personalized patient care. As genetic scientists, computer scientists, and physicians continue to refine Watson’s capabilities, this new technology could result in countless lives saved, as well as improved quality of life for patients undergoing treatment for cancer and other diseases.
Source: “IBM’s Watson Takes on Brain Cancer” IBM Research. http://www.research.ibm.com/articles/genomics.shtml