IBM Watson speeds cancer DNA insights at UW Medicine

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IBM Watson speeds cancer DNA insights at UW Medicine

At more than a dozen leading institutions, Watson will help identify cancer-causing mutations and possible treatments
Leila Gray

University of Washington Medical Center will be one of IBM Watson Health’s clinical collaborators in applying Watson to accelerate patient DNA analysis and to personalize treatment options for cancer patients. 

The announcement, part of IBM’s broader Watson Health initiative to advance patient-centered care, was made today, May 5.

Watson will help clinicians rapidly sift through extensive data on a patient’s genetic profile, then will provide comprehensive information on cancer-causing mutations.  Watson will gather pertinent information from published medical and scientific studies to suggest treatment options apropos of the patient’s individual case.
Determining possible drug therapies or clinical trials for an advanced cancer patient, based on a genetic profile, has been a lengthy process. Now, with Watson, what normally took weeks now takes only minutes.
Watson is a cognitive computing technology that incorporates artificial intelligence and machine learning.  Watson’s abilities improve with experience.  As participating institutions pool their collective  wisdom, Watson is expected to become more discerning in presenting options.

Dr. Jonathan Tait, professor and vice chair of laboratory medicine at the University of Washington, will oversee UW  Medical Center’s part in the IBM Watson Health’s cancer initiative.  UW Medicine, one of the three local institutions in the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, is among the national leaders in cancer genetics, cancer gene testing, and the analysis of genetic results for patients.

This work is done through the University of Washington Division of Medical Genetics and Division of Oncology, Department of Medicine, Department of Genome  Sciences, and Department of Laboratory Medicine and many other UW-affiliated units.  

According to an IBM Watson Health news release, most of the 1.6 million Americans who are diagnosed with cancer each year receive surgery, chemotherapy or radiation treatment.  When standard treatments fail, patients are turning to genomic profiling to benefit from therapies that target specific mutations linked to cancer.
Add this to the health information amassing in the patient’s electronic medical record, the expanding knowledge pouring  out of medical science research, and emerging clinical trial information.  Cancer-care physicians are faced with a daunting task in interpreting this abundant data to guide treatment decisions.

Early in the Watson collaboration, UW Medical Center will enroll patients with brain, breast, prostate and lung cancer.  Later, melanoma and liver cancer patients will participate.

The IBM Watson Health team hopes that, by making it easier to obtain individualized reports and results to guide clinical decision making, a broader population of patients will benefit from more targeted approaches to cancer treatment.

Along with UW Medical Center, others among the first to participate in the cancer patient genomics project are Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, BC Cancer Agency, City of Hope, Duke Cancer Institute, Fred & Pamela Buffet Cancer Center in Omaha, Neb., McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, New York Genome Center, Sanford Health, University of Kansas Cancer Center, University of North Carolina Linberger Cancer Center, University of Southern California Center for Applied Molecular Medicine, and Yale Cancer Center. 

News coverage of this development:

Seattle Times: UW Med Center gets cancer-care help from IBM super-computer

Reuters: IBM's Watson to guide cancer therapies at 14 centers

Forbes: IBM's Watson enters market for analyzing cancer genetics

Popular Mechanics:  IBM's Watson can now recommend songs and plan the best cancer treatments

Bloomberg: Health Buzz: IBM's Watson will identify mutations and targeted cancer therapies