NOV 10, 2014 12:00 AM PST

Supercomputer Tackles Job of Furthering Genomic Research for Cancer Care Initiative

WRITTEN BY: Judy O'Rourke
In a pilot project, cognitive computing system will ‘learn' and digest data, with the aim of increasing treatment options for cancer patients

Somewhere in the avalanche of medical data a nugget of wisdom may be buried that could help an oncologist deliver on the promise of genomic medicine for his or her patients. If only physicians could get their fingers on these precious bits of data.

An initiative is under way to help them do just that: a pilot project in which clinical expertise will be integrated with the computing power of a supercomputer, with the aim of zeroing in on treatment options tailored to patients' DNA.

Researchers at Cleveland Clinic (The Lerner Research Institute's Genomic Medicine Institute), Cleveland, will be tapping the knowledge and insight employed by IBM Watson technology in the field of genomic research.

Cleveland Clinic researchers will use Watson to pinpoint patterns in genome sequencing and medical data to uncover these nuggets. But as with John Watson (partner of Sherlock Holmes), IBM Watson will have an exceptional partner. Cleveland Clinic's clinical expertise combined with the capabilities of IBM's Watson system will foster improvements to the Watson tool and learnings within it. The aim is to develop personalized treatment options for cancer patients.

Watson's attributes include cognitive services, deep computational biology models, and IBM's public cloud infrastructure SoftLayer. Watson can continuously 'learn' as it confronts new patient scenarios, and as more information is yielded through new medical research, journal articles, and clinical studies.

According to IBM, Watson can read and understand natural language. When you ask Watson a question, the supercomputer relies on hypothesis generation and evaluation to quickly parse germaneevidence and evaluate responses from dissimilar data. It learns from doing, getting "smarter" by tracking feedback from its users and learning from successes and failures.

Clinicians are inundated with data, and before they can digest it all to deliver optimal DNA-based treatment options to their patients they must tie in data from genome sequencing to a multitude of medical journals, new studies and clinical records. Keeping current may be unrealistic, as the volume of data is doubles every five years. Which opens the door for Watson and its many abilities.

Watson is able to quickly and comprehensively review colossal databases. The aim of the collaboration is to give more patients access to treatment options that target their disease's DNA. The Lerner Research Institute's Genomic Medicine Institute at Cleveland Clinic will appraise Watson's capacity for to helping oncologists develop more personalized care to patients for different types of cancers.

The Cleveland Clinic health system comprises a main campus close to downtown Cleveland, eight community hospitals, more than 75 Northern Ohio outpatient locations, Cleveland Clinic Florida, the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, Cleveland Clinic Canada, and, set to begin seeing patients in 2015, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

This pilot program continues ongoing initiatives with the two companies to further the progress of big data in healthcare.
About the Author
  • Judy O'Rourke worked as a newspaper reporter before becoming chief editor of Clinical Lab Products magazine. As a freelance writer today, she is interested in finding the story behind the latest developments in medicine and science, and in learning what lies ahead.
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