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Sloan-Kettering hires IBM's Watson for cancer diagnoses

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Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center will use IBM's Watson intelligent computer to help physicians fight cancer more effectively.

New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center will soon employ IBM's Watson intelligent computer to help physicians fight cancer more effectively.

When Big Blue debuted its lively computer on Jeopardy! last year, we knew it was only a matter of time before its abilities were used in the real world. And that starts with the hospital, apparently.

At Sloan-Kettering, Watson's intelligence and natural language processing ability will be used as a reference tool to improve physicians' and nurses' access to cancer data. IBM plans to cross-reference existing molecular and genomic data, and the hospital's vast repository of cancer case histories, to create an outcome and evidence-based decision support system.

Jim Fitzgerald elaborates in a report for the Associated Press:

Watson will be fed textbooks, medical journals and – with permission – individual medical records. Then it will be tested with more and more complicated cancer scenarios and assessed with the help of an advisory panel.

The idea: so an oncologist anywhere can get his or her hands on diagnostic and treatment options for patients based on the latest research, then keep track of the evidence used to reach them, for later reference.

Earlier this month, we reported on the launch of IBM's Clinical Genomics platform specifically; here, we're seeing its first major client.

The possibilities are tantalizing; as a large family of diseases, cancer is ripe for the application of new technologies. (It's the second-most common cause of death in the U.S.) Sloan-Kettering will deploy the platform to address lung, breast and prostate cancers beginning with a pilot later this year.

With intelligent databases -- and the computers to help sift through them -- the hope is that technology can help disperse the most advanced knowledge available, without the patient skipping from specialist to specialist.

Graphic: IBM

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure