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IBM's Watson battles brain cancer

Posting in Healthcare

IBM is teaming up with the New York Genome Center to develop treatments for brain cancer.

On Wednesday, IBM said that the Watson cloud computing system -- well-known for its appearance on quiz show Jeopardy -- will be used by the U.S.-based genetic research center to develop treatments for the most common form of brain cancer in adults, glioblastoma.

This type of cancer is very aggressive, and causes approximately 13,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. Glioblastoma requires chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to treat, and the average survival rate with treatment is 15 months. Without treatment, sufferers are expected to survive between 15 - 20 weeks.

As part of a new clinical trial, Watson will be used to sequence the DNA of glioblastoma patients. This data will then be combined with clinical data to determine the best ways to treat each patient.

The vast amount of data sifting involved in DNA sequencing, when undertaken by humans, usually takes too long to help brain cancer patients. However, as Watson "learns" to solve problems after ploughing rapidly through vast data sets, the supercomputer is best equipped to tackle the challenge. 

For example, if Watson "learns" that a patient's leukaemia is genetically similar to melanoma, melanoma drugs could be a successful course to take in shrinking tumors.

John Kelly, a senior vice president and director of IBM Research said:

"This is the proverbial needle in the haystack and the haystack is enormous. Watson can do in seconds what would take people years. And we can get it down to a really personal level."

Within the clinical trial, 20 patients with brain cancer will have their DNA sequences and Watson will figure out the best way to treat them.

Read on: Huffington Post

— By on March 20, 2014, 2:26 AM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure