Watson IBM’s supercomputer to help US research centre fight brain cancer

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 March, 2014, 9:25pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 March, 2014, 9:25pm


IBM and its renowned Watson computer will help a genetic research centre in the United States to fight brain cancer.

The Watson cloud computing system will work with the New York Genome Centre to help develop treatments for glioblastoma, the most common type of brain cancer in humans.

"Time definitely is not on your side when you have glioblastoma, and that's where Watson comes in," says Dr Robert Darnell, the centre's president.

Glioblastoma is an extremely aggressive form of cancer. The average survival rate is only 12 to 14 months; it kills many thousands of people every year.

As part of the clinical trial, the centre - a non-profit consortium of academic, medical and industry officials - will sequence glioblastoma patients' DNA, the chemical in cells of animals and plants that carries genetic information. It then uses Watson to combine that data with clinical information to help determine the best way to treat each patient.

Watson is unique because it is not programmed like most computers. Instead of relying on the information put into it, Watson learns by "reading" vast amounts of information and combining it with the results of previous work to find answers to problems. It is ideal for data-heavy work in fields such as health care and finance.

Darnell says he hopes that Watson will speed up the time it takes for physicians to find links between different cancers to help work out a patient's treatment plan.

Combining the different DNA and clinical records of patients normally creates far too much information for people to deal with.