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Power of IBM's 'Watson' Being Used to Treat Cancer

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TWC News: Power of IBM's 'Watson' Being Used to Treat Cancer
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The same technology used to beat Jeopardy champions on TV a few years ago is now being used to help treat some of the deadliest forms of cancer. NY1's Adam Balkin filed the following report.

Watson, the IBM computer that was introduced to the world by beating a couple of the greatest human champions of the TV game show "Jeopardy," is now using its power for a more practical purpose: treating cancer.

IBM is teaming up with the New York Genome Center to develop Watson so that it can help tailor treatments to specific terminal cancer cases, using what IBM calls "cognitive computing."

"It can actually understand the data and reason with the data and help people draw better conclusions, so it has massive capability," said John Kelly, director of IBM Research. "So it can read and search and understand all of the world's medical journals. It also can ingest all of the genomic data coming from cancer patients here at the genome center."

While Watson can certainly be used for research, what's being talked about here is specifically treatment, allowing doctors to make much more informed decisions much more quickly than ever before.

Cancer is made up of mutations in DNA. If you can sequence all of the DNA of a tumor, you have the potential to find a weakness that can be targeted. Problem is, now, that just takes way too long, often times much longer than the patient is expected to live.

"It's a flood of data. You can't imagine," said Dr. Robert Darnell of the New York Genome Center. "It's thousands and thousands of football fields worth of data, and so somebody has to go through all that data and find what are the mutations that really matter, and when I say really matter, I mean which are the ones that can be treated by a medicine that we have on the shelf now. So the wonderful thing about Watson is, it can go through all of that data, boom, in a couple of seconds, whereas when we try and do it now, it's clunky and slow and, ultimately, grinds the engine to a halt."

Developers say it'll still take a few more months for Watson to be fine-tuned so that it can enter hospitals, but it's expected to do so by the end of the year. It will initially focus on helping to treat patients with brain tumors.

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