IBM Supercomputer to Help 10K Veterans Beat Cancer

First Watson competed on 'Jeopardy!'; now it's being brought into VA facilities
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 29, 2016 12:26 PM CDT
IBM Supercomputer to Help 10K Veterans Beat Cancer
This file photo shows the IBM computer system known as Watson at IBM's TJ Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY.   (AP Photo/IBM, File)

In January, President Obama handed the reins to Joe Biden to head a "moonshot" initiative to cure cancer, and a major step toward that end has just been made. Per Fortune, IBM will donate its Watson supercomputer technology—the same technology that beat humans on Jeopardy!, CNET notes—to Veterans Affairs hospitals and doctors' offices, offering precision genomic treatment to the largest cancer demographic (3.5% of all US cancer patients) in any one health-care group. At the National Cancer Moonshot Summit on Wednesday, the VA Department and IBM Watson Health said they hope to use this tech to scale up doctors' access to such treatment programs and help 10,000 or so veterans over the next two years, per a press release—about 30 times more than the current number in VA facilities using these treatments. "By applying Watson … we see an opportunity to scale access to precision medicine for America's veterans, a group most deserving of the best care in the world," the VA's undersecretary for health says.

How this "Watson for Genomics" will work: After DNA sequencing on cancer patients, that info will be plugged into Watson, which will analyze and cross-reference existing medical data and then spit out what's probably causing the cancer mutations and what precision treatment is likely the best option—a task that was previously extremely time-consuming due to the volume of data and not very scalable. Plus, physicians in any part of the country—not just those near urban centers with top cancer facilities—will have access. Forbes notes the project won't do much to help patients outside the VA system and that no one knows yet exactly how effective Watson will be at pulling off this ambitious job. But it says while "efforts like the Cancer Moonshot have trouble living up to their own hype … they can grease the wheels of progress a little bit." (Watson released its own cookbook last year.)

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