IBM and the New York Genome Center, a consortium of medical research institutions in New York City, are collaborating on a project to speed up cancer diagnoses and treatment.
The work, which got underway in 2013, is exploring the use of computers to help analyze a wide range of genetic information and the scientific literature with the goal of quickly formulating precise treatment plans for cancer patients.
The line of research is being orchestrated by Robert Darnell, the founding director of the New York Genome Center and a neuro-oncologist at Rockefeller University. A project on brain tumors aims to bring cancer experts in New York City to bear on treatment plans that take advantage of the very latest scientific evidence.
An essential assistant on Darnell’s team is supercomputer IBM Watson, which helps by comparing the genetic differences between healthy cells and tumor cells in patients, as well as fetching the newest treatment ideas from medical journals.
Watson wasn’t always part of Darnell’s lineup. When he started the project, he relied on the collective brainpower of a bunch of medical researchers in New York City. Fifteen of them, including Darnell, spent three weeks evaluating the case of the first patient of the project. But, he says, “by the time we got through with this patient, the patient died.”
Speed matters, given how fast cancer can spread. Information overload is a particular challenge.
“Cancer is not giving you the luxury of time,” says Ajay Royyuru, the director of IBM’s Healthcare and Life Sciences Research. And, he adds, there are “more papers published in each year than cancer researchers can read and remember.”
In contrast, IBM’s supercomputer Watson, famous for defeating former champions in Jeopardy! in 2011, is able to read “800 million pages per second … from medical literature to patient records to doctors’ …