IBM Watson: Advancing Brain Cancer Treatment

Genomic Diagram

Sometimes life throws a few unexpected events at you.  Near midnight on the evening of July 19th, 2012, I felt my wife shaking me and pleading:  Wake up; you have to listen to this guy!”  Groggy, through half-open eyes, I listed as Charlie Rose interviewed Dr. Lukas Wartman about how whole genome sequencing famously saved his life from cancer.  At the time my mother was battling colon cancer and we were desperate to find any alternative method that might help her fight the disease.  Little did I know that in just 17 months I would meet with Dr. Wartman and his colleagues to discuss a technology around genome analysis that we wouldn’t even begin building until a year later – IBM Watson Genomics.

Cancer is pervasive.  Recent articles highlight how it is on the verge of overtaking heart disease as the leading cause of death.  For the limited number of patients undergoing whole genome sequencing today, their situation is often bleak with few options.  But researches now know that certain cancer causing mutations occur across tumors in different parts of the body.  Think about that for a moment.  It’s not necessarily where the disease is appearing, but rather what mutation is driving the cancer.  If it were possible to identify the cancer mutation and find a drug specifically designed to treat the DNA alteration, the impact to cancer care may be revolutionary.  Instead of using chemotherapy across large areas of the body, treatments would target DNA in very specific areas.

Why is this so significant?  In past cases researchers found drugs approved for one type of cancer (based on the area of the cancer) proved effective in treating a completely different type of cancer (based upon a specific mutation).  In the case of Dr. Wartman, the team identified a drug only approved for kidney cancer that successfully treated his leukemia.

Of course, there are many obstacles.  A single cell contains three billion base pairs of information.  Vast amounts of data often prevent innovative discoveries as researchers must correlate data from full genome sequencing with immense amounts of medical journals, studies and clinical records.  DNA and medical literature are the “big data” of biology.  The procedure is not only expensive, but also time-consuming often taking weeks or even months to identify promising drugs.  Patients with cancer or any other disease have no time to lose.

Unfortunately, whole genome sequencing wasn’t an option for my mother and she died nearly a year ago.  In 1996, my father died of leukemia.  In the nearly 17 years between their deaths technology advanced light years, yet it wasn’t enough to make a difference.

Yesterday, however, I found myself at the New York Genome Center (NYGC) where we announced an initiative to accelerate a new era of genomic medicine.  IBM and researchers at NYGC are partnering to change the face of cancer treatment by making sophisticated genomic analysis a standard part of care.  Our IBM Watson technology has the potential to reduce parts of the whole genome sequencing process taking weeks down to only a few minutes.  In a joint study, our collaboration will help oncologists deliver personalized care to patients with glioblastoma, the most common and deadly form of brain cancer.  Our hope is to make the positive outcome in Lukas Wartman’s story a common, every day occurrence eventually helping millions of patients’ world wide.

Today we’re beginning to see the intersection of technology and biology in action.  We believe IBM Watson will accelerate the race to personalized medicine as biology increasingly becomes an information science.  But to be successful, it requires a high degree of collaboration with partners such as NYGC.  We’re now at a point where we’re not just saying it will happen, we’re in the process of making it happen.

To learn more please visithttp://bit.ly/1nHtS2n

Categories: Uncategorized

About the Author,

Steve Harvey is the Worldwide Leader for Technology and Analytics across IBM's Business Process Outsourcing unit.

 

25 Responses to IBM Watson: Advancing Brain Cancer Treatment

  1. Thank you for bringing such important research to light and for creating the technologies that make such research possible.

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  21. Thanks for nice article .
    Wishing all success in using latest technologies for noble cause.
    Regards

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