How IBM’s Watson is Informing Cancer Treatments

Nearly every industry is looking for new ways to capitalize on data. From transportation to public safety, the public sector is working to embed data into their decision-making process.

This is especially true in the healthcare sector. As the medical community continues to create more and more data, there is now an unprecedented opportunity to unlock new findings to improve patient care, and provide tailored and personalized treatments.

Recently, IBM shared a remarkable development they are working on to improve the care of patients suffering from glioblastoma, an aggressive form of malignant brain cancer. Glioblastoma is one of the most common types of brain cancer in adults, and kills more than 13,000 Americans each year.

Partnering with the New York Genome Center (NYGC) and using their Watson technology, a cognitive computing system, IBM will be able to analyze genomic data from patients diagnosed with glioblastoma and create treatment options based on their DNA sequence.

The system, expected to be deployed as a cloud-based prototype, will combine modern genomic analytics and comprehensive data bases of medical biomedical literature with Watson’s cognitive computing power to help clinicians uncover individual genetic patterns of glioblastoma,” said an IBM press release. “IBM will be taking advantage of NYGC’s genomic and clinical expertise to continue to develop and refine the Watson system with the shared goal of transforming care for all types of cancer, based on the genetic characteristics of that person’s cancer.”

Initially, the prototype will be targeted at interpreting genomic data and analyzing gene sequences between normal and cancerous brain tumors. Once analyzed, researchers can leverage Watson to review medical literature and clinical records to help define treatment options for a patient. This presents the chance for a fully customized treatment plan, based on data, personal gene sequence and the specific kind of cancer afflicting the patient.

With the help of Watson, oncologists could analyze genetic data and compare to biomedical literature and drug databases, that would be automatically curated by Watson based on the machines analysis of the patients condition and health factors. This would produce a level of analysis unlike anything ever seen, and could help doctors tailor treatment specific to a patient’s genome and make more informed treatment and care decisions based on the latest research and findings from the medical community.

Since Watson is a cognitive system, the machine can continually learn as it treats new patients. As new literature, journal articles and clinical studies are released, Watson can look at these findings and suggest treatment options for patients.

“Since the human genome was first mapped more than a decade ago, we’ve made tremendous progress in understanding the genetic drivers of disease,” said Dr. Robert Darnell, CEO, President and Scientific Director of the New York Genome Center in the IBM press release. “The real challenge has been making sense of massive quantities of genetic data and translating research findings into better treatments and outcomes for patients… Applying the cognitive computing power of Watson is going to revolutionize genomics and accelerate the opportunity to target personalized care for deadly diseases like cancer.”

With the new kind of knowledge that Watson is providing, doctors can attempt new kinds of treatment for diseases, all specifically designed and tailored for the patients DNA profile. With the help of IBM, we are on the cusp of remarkable healthcare breakthroughs that will transform the lives of millions around the world.



In times of economic uncertainty, smarter government is a mandate. When information can be analyzed and presented more effectively, the result is better decision making, reporting and insight. For more information on how to use analytics to deliver better services to citizens, check out IBM’sAnalytics to Outcomes group on GovLoop.

Photo from FlickR Creative Commons: Atomic Taco


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Russell Irving

So important. Who hasn’t had their life or that of someone they know, touched by and far too often devastated by cancer. – Thank you.