IBM and American Cancer Society Want to Create the Ultimate Cancer Advisor

IBM and the American Cancer Society are launching a new partnership that will combine the power of Big Blue’s cognitive computing platform, Watson, with the wealth of cancer research and patient support services provided by the non-profit organization.

“Watson has read reams of oncology literature, but this phase is now about learning all the cancer advocacy literature and how to support cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers in their journey,” said Kyu Rhee, chief health officer of IBM

Watson will “ingest” this information and link it to the Watson Health Cloud, a secure collection of de-identified patient data. It will use all that knowledge as the foundation for the health advisor, which will be able to respond directly and personally to a user. No internet searching necessary.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comment: This is a fascinating idea which has the potential to revolutionize cancer treatment. One of our greatest challenges in medicine today is being able to efficiently and effectively search the literature to find the information we need. The ability for a computer to scan such a significant amount of information – including research studies, medical charts, and treatment outcomes – and formulate a specific report of personalized information is very exciting.

IBM’s Watson will now help spot breast cancer and other diseases

IBM Corp. will now use its Watson supercomputing technology to spot deadly diseases. To start, Watson, a machine-learning technology that can gather data from many sources and analyze it instantaneously in a phenomenon known as “big data,” will be taught about things like cardiovascular disease and eye health using data provided by the partner institutions.

IBM said it will then compare the extracted data across a wide spectrum of other sources, such as electronic health records, radiology and pathology reports, lab results, doctors’ notes and medical journals, to help detect deadly diseases like breast and lung cancer, diabetes, brain disease, heart disease and related conditions, such as stroke.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comment: The more information we have at our fingertips, the better outcomes we should see from treatment. My hope is that Watson will not only scour conventional medical journals and treatments, but also more integrative and natural approaches used in cancer treatment as well. By doing this, we will have a truly evidence-based approach, rather than merely a one-sided one.

How Watson for Oncology is advancing cancer care

What alarms Dr. Craig Thompson, president and CEO at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, is that 20% of cancer patients in the U.S. are misdiagnosed.

Thompson made those remarks during an IBM investor briefing in February as he discussed the cancer hospital’s partnership with IBM Watson. “We talk about how to have tighter integration between research and medicine,” said Rob Merkel, IBM Watson’s healthcare and life sciences leader. “In research, there are over 700,000 articles published per year. The average researcher reads 200 articles per year. When you factor in all the data sources including clinical and exogenous factors, we believe in one life, an individual generates over 1,100 terabytes of information. It’s far beyond human cognition; there’s no way for the brain to process it.”

Imagine how Watson changes the patient-physician relationship and experience. Once Watson for Oncology has the patient’s information, it can instantly sort through medical literature from all over the world, find the literature that is most relevant to that patient’s specific cancer, and prioritize potential treatment options based on the evidence and the patient’s health record.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comment: While a computer will hopefully never replace a physician, it can hopefully add an extra set of “eyes” and “ears” to research the extensive information which currently exists on cancer diagnosis and treatment. Even if we only make modest progress in diagnosing or treating cancer, that will still mean lives saved. And that is success in my book.