IBM's Watson And The Human Genome

One of the great scientific triumphs of our time has been mapping the human genome.

Completed in 2003, the Human Genome Project identified and mapped all 20,500 genes that control human development and described the function of each. And thanks to advances in technology, we can now calculate, in just a few minutes for under $1,000, what once took $1 billion and two decades.

However, despite these significant advances, only a few patients have benefitted from the power of genomic information. The DNA map is so large and detailed that it's hard to follow in any logical direction. As a result, doctors today are struggling to use DNA insights in treatment.

The difficulty of using genomic information is tragic for individuals diagnosed with life-threatening diseases like cancer. Genome sequencing can let doctors compare healthy cells in the patient's body to cancer cells, and allows them to identify the specific genetic mutations driving the growth of the cancer. But that doesn't automatically tell them what to do next.

For example, if a patient has glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer with a five-year survival rate under 10 percent, doctors might spend months trying to correlate the genetic drivers of the disease with relevant treatment options after sifting through medical literature, drug databases and clinical studies. Not only is this process expensive and time-consuming, but it is available to very few patients. Instead, most glioblastoma patients will receive the standard of care: brain surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

Now, some of the world's leading cancer centers are working together to pioneer new, helpful technologies. Along with the New York Genome Center, we announced last week that NYGC will use cognitive computing to evaluate the genetic information in individual cancer cases and then comb the literature and databases of treatment options, enabling doctors to offer more personalized treatment plans.

A new prototype of the IBM Watson cognitive computer has been designed specifically for genomic analysis and will power the project. The New York Genome Center is going to take advantage of Watson's ability to understand human language from journals and lab notes, and test its ability to help doctors find relevant information.

The result could lead to personalized cancer treatment at a level and scale we've never seen before. Watson could aid oncologists as they make treatment decisions that target genetic drivers of disease.

The New York Genome Center says that Watson offers the hope and promise for advancing DNA-based treatment. These types of systems have the power to revolutionize how doctors practice genomics, speed up the opportunity for personalized care and improve outcomes for patients with some of the most challenging diseases.

My company also believes that Watson will continue to play an increasingly important role in making sense of the amazing DNA map at our fingertips, allowing doctors to make better healthcare decisions in partnership with their patients. As biology grows more complex, we will require increasingly sophisticated information science tools to sift through evidence.

We are eager to move forward with Watson and genomics. Cognitive computing just may be the answer we've been looking for to translate genomic insights into smarter care.

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