Oncologists hope that IBM’s Watson supercomputer can help them improve the speed and efficacy of cancer treatments, IBM announced.

Two years ago, “Watson” beat all-timeJeopardy! champions. Dr. Larry Norton, Deputy Physician-in-Chief for Breast Cancer Programs at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center had wondered then whether the IBM Watson system might be harnessed to improve cancer care and research. Mark Kris, MD, Chief, Thoracic Oncology Service at Sloan-Kettering, heard Dr. Norton’s comment and became interested too.

The two doctors felt that combining Watson’s ability to process huge amounts of data and use natural language processing might accomplish much more than winning Jeopardy! “Might it not also revolutionize cancer care and research and speed up progress for patients?” they wondered.

A year ago, a team at Memorial Sloan-Kettering started working with an IBM and a WellPoint team to train Watson to help doctors choose therapies for breast and lung cancer patients. They continue to share their knowledge and expertise in oncology and information technology, beginning with hundreds of lung cancers, the aim being to help Watson learn as much as possible about cancer care and how oncologists use medical data, as well as their experiences in personalized cancer therapies.

During this period, doctors and technology experts have spent thousands of hours helping Watson learn how to process, analyze and interpret the meaning of sophisticated clinical data using natural language processing; the aim being to achieve better health care quality and efficiency.

An opportunity to improve how medicine is taught, practiced and paid for

According to the American cancer Society, approximately 1.6 million new cancers will be diagnosed in the United States in 2013 alone. The studies have shown that about 20% of patients have received either an incomplete or wrong diagnosis.

In a communiqué, IBM wrote “These statistics, coupled with a data explosion of medical information that is doubling every five years, represents an unprecedented opportunity for the health care industry and next generation cognitive computing systems, to combine forces in new ways to improve how medicine is taught, practiced and paid for.”

Manoj Saxena, IBM General Manager, Watson Solutions, said:

“IBM’s work with WellPoint and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center represents a landmark collaboration in how technology and evidence based medicine can transform the way in which health care is practiced. breakthrough capabilities bring forward the first in a series of Watson-based technologies, which exemplifies the value of applying big data and analytics and cognitive computing to tackle the industry’s most pressing challenges.”

Using evidence-based medicine to advance oncology

So far, Watson has ingested:

    • Over 600,000 pieces of medical evidence


    • 2,000,000 pages of text from 42 academic journals and human studies (clinical trials) based on oncology research


  • A huge number of patients’ records spanning decades of cancer treatment history, including medical records and patient outcomes. Watson can sift through 1.5 million pieces of such records and provide doctors with evidence-based treatment options within seconds

In less than 12 months “Memorial Sloan-Kettering has immersed Watson in the complexities of cancer and the explosion of genetic research which has set the stage for changing care practices for many cancer patients with highly specialized treatments based on their personal genetic tumor type,” says an IBM communiqué.


See the following video which explains this amazing use of a computer to fight cancer:


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