Partnering with IBM and Watson to accelerate DNA analysis and inform personalized treatment

UNC Lineberger will be one of more than a dozen leading cancer centers tapping IBM's Watson to accelerate DNA analysis and inform personalized treatment options for patients. The project is part of IBM’s broader Watson Health initiative to advance patient-centered care and improve health.

Partnering with IBM and Watson to accelerate DNA analysis and inform personalized treatment click to enlarge UNC Lineberger Director Dr. Ned Sharpless featured in Times Square in conjunction with the IBM Watson announcement

IBM Watson Health (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is collaborating with more than a dozen leading cancer institutes, including UNC Lineberger, to accelerate the ability of clinicians to identify and personalize treatment options for their patients. The institutes will apply Watson's advanced cognitive capabilities to reduce from weeks to minutes the ability to translate DNA insights, understand a person’s genetic profile and gather relevant information from medical literature to personalize treatment options. The project is part of IBM’s broader Watson Health initiative to advance patient-centered care and improve health.

The collaborations will enable clinicians to use Watson with a much broader set of patients by the end of 2015, and will accelerate the promise of personalized medicine for cancer patients everywhere. In addition to UNC Lineberger, Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, BC Cancer Agency, City of Hope, Cleveland Clinic, Duke Cancer Institute, Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha, Nebraska, McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, New York Genome Center, Sanford Health, University of Kansas Cancer Center, University of Southern California Center for Applied Molecular Medicine, University of Washington Medical Center, and Yale Cancer Center are among the first to participate in the project. As participating institutions use Watson to assist clinicians in identifying cancer-causing mutations, Watson’s rationale and insights will continually improve, providing the latest combined wisdom of the world’s leading cancer institutes for oncologists.   

“We are partnering with IBM in an effort to solve this decision problem with the help of cognitive technology and to improve the decisions we make with our patients to maximize their chance for cure.” - Dr. Ned Sharpless

Most of the 1.6 million Americans who are diagnosed with cancer each year receive surgery, chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Yet when these standard treatments fail and as genetic sequencing becomes increasingly accessible and affordable, some patients are beginning to benefit from treatments that target their specific cancer-causing genetic mutations. However, the process is time-consuming and requires clinicians to sift through and reconcile a deluge of genetic information – for example a single patient’s genome represents more than 100 gigabytes of data – in addition to health information such as electronic medical records, journal studies, and clinical trial information.

Watson can help clinicians quickly sift through this data and provide comprehensive insights on cancer-causing mutations and medical literature that is potentially relevant. It typically takes weeks for clinicians to analyze each mutation and the available medical literature to then identify tailored treatment options for a patient. Watson completes the genetic material and medical literature review process in only a few minutes, producing a report and data visualization of the patient’s case, and evidence-based insights on potential drugs that may be relevant to an individual patient’s unique DNA profile identified in the medical literature. The clinician can then evaluate the evidence to determine whether a targeted therapy may be more effective than standard care for the patient.

“Determining the right drug combination for an advanced cancer patient is alarmingly difficult, requiring a complex analysis of different sources of Big Data that integrates rapidly emerging clinical trial information with personalized gene sequencing,” said Norman Sharpless, MD, director, UNC Lineberger. “We are partnering with IBM in an effort to solve this decision problem with the help of cognitive technology and to improve the decisions we make with our patients to maximize their chance for cure.”

In the initial phase of the program, participating organizations will apply Watson to the DNA data of patients who are battling all types of cancer, including lymphoma, melanoma, pancreatic, ovarian, brain, lung, breast and colorectal cancer. 

Read More