MD Anderson to use IBM’s ‘Watson’ to fight cancer

HOUSTON (AP) — Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center is hoping IBM’s Watson cognitive computer system has as much success fighting cancer as it did winning $1 million on the TV quiz show Jeopardy.

The famed University of Texas institute announced Friday it had partnered with IBM to use Watson to help fight cancer, beginning with leukemia and then moving on to other forms of the deadly disease.

“This has the ability to revolutionize care of cancer patients, clinically and through research,” Dr. Courtney DiNardo, an M.D. Anderson professor of leukemia and one of the project leaders told the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1aVSUjy ). “It’s the ultimate in personalized medicine.”

The supercomputer has a memory twice the size of the Library of Congress and the ability to analyze questions and provide rapid-fire answers, which led to its Jeopardy victory in 2011 and made people believe it could have revolutionary impacts in health care.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York was the first cancer hospital to use Watson to help determine treatment for lung, breast and prostate cancers.

Now, MD Anderson is feeding Watson case histories on more than 1 million leukemia patients, along with information about the disease, research and treatment options. Hospital staff and doctors hope it will help guide care and reduce the death rate. The hospital also hopes the supercomputer will be able to spot trends missed by researchers, possibly leading to suggestions for new targets for cancer drugs.

The collaboration with IBM is part of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program designed to use innovative approaches to fight eight deadly cancers.

MD Anderson President Dr. Ronald DePinho said “the ability of the human mind to navigate necessary knowledge and do it systemically for each patient is a huge medical challenge.”

“Identifying new insights from clinical research could illuminate new paths,” DePinho told the Chronicle.

IBM, meanwhile, says Watson is 240 percent faster than it was in 2011 and that its server is now the size of a pizza box.

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