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IBM's Watson To Be Used For Cancer Treatment

Unknown Lamer posted about 7 months ago | from the emh-version-zero dept.

IBM 46

Beeftopia (1846720) writes "The New York Genome Center and IBM will investigate whether Watson can be used to parse cancer genome data and then recommend treatments. The trial involves 20 to 25 glioblastoma patients with poor prognoses. The article states, 'It should theoretically be possible to analyze [genomic] data and use it to customize a treatment that targets the specific mutations present in tumor cells. But right now, doing so requires a squad of highly trained geneticists, genomics experts, and clinicians. It's a situation that can't scale to handle the [number of] patients with glioblastoma, much less other cancers. Instead, that gusher of information is going to be pointed at Watson... Watson will figure out which mutations are distinct to the tumor, what protein networks they effect, and which drugs target proteins that are part of those networks. The net result will be a picture of the biochemical landscape inside the tumor cells, along with some suggestions on how clinicians might consider intervening to change the landscape.'"

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You know what else will be used for treatment? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46534281)

The Go Atse [goatse.fr] tree. Note: you'll have to use Google translator in Chrome to read it as it is in French.

Re:You know what else will be used for treatment? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46534339)

Why was this modded down? It is a slow link but it works.
 
Is there a purchase link?

Re: You know what else will be used for treatment? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46534361)

How about focusing on a cure. I'm tired of hearing about treatment.

Faster, but smarter? (1)

Travis Mansbridge (830557) | about 7 months ago | (#46534423)

While Watson can come up with answers much faster than a human, as demonstrated by the Jeopardy showcase, I wonder if it can come up with more accurate answers over a longer term vs. a team of researchers and scientists.

Re:Faster, but smarter? (1)

Bacon Bits (926911) | about 7 months ago | (#46534691)

It's not particularly important, honestly. Sure, yes, accuracy is important and nobody will use the thing if it can't be accurate a good bit of the time. However, I can't imagine it would be anything other than a fast consultant. A source for a second opinion. I don't think for a minute that we'll be relying on digital diagnosis for a very long time.

How many Sci-Fi shows have you seen where something like this happens:

Nurse: Doctor, the patient's condition is declining rapidly.
Doctor: I don't understand. Hm. Computer, what is your diagnosis?
Computer: There is a 86.3% likelihood that .
Doctor: Hm. That could be right. Nurse, do to confirm. However, I've got a hunch it's . I'm going to while you do that.

Re:Faster, but smarter? (1)

Bacon Bits (926911) | about 7 months ago | (#46534713)

Hey, thanks for eating my angle brackets, Slashdot. You're the only comment system on the Internet that still thinks that's a good idea to parse user content as tags.

Re:Faster, but smarter? (1)

GTRacer (234395) | about 7 months ago | (#46535017)

Y'know, you could just go back and edit... Oh...

So Slashdot is *ALSO* the only commenting system around that doesn't allow editing either! Two distinctions for the site!

Though, oddly, I've stuck with HTML formatting for my commenting since I created an account. It's a bit of a pain at times but it keeps me involved in the process and more focused on the preview than I would be otherwise, I think.

Re:Faster, but smarter? (2)

Soulskill (1459) | about 7 months ago | (#46535691)

So Slashdot is *ALSO* the only commenting system around that doesn't allow editing either!

That's always been by design, along with the inability to delete comments.

A user recently suggested allowing editing, but providing a version history (like Wikipedia does for edits). I thought that was a cool idea. Once we get some spare engineering time, we're going to do another pass on the comment system, and maybe that's something we can implement.

Re:Faster, but smarter? (5, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 7 months ago | (#46534793)

Lets say hypothetically, just pulling numbers out of no where, that Watson is 1/10th the price of a specialized team but only half as accurate. I think those numbers are probably a bit on the pessimistic side... yes Watson is an expensive system but each query will be completed in minutes or at most hours, the marginal cost of each additional patient just isn't very high when compared to a multidisciplinary team of geneticists, oncologists, toxicologists, and general practitioners. As for accuracy, well to put it simply this kind of network analysis is what Watson was designed from the ground up to do and it does it shockingly well.

But I digress, back to the example. Lets say there are enough specialized teams to treat 1,000 glioblastoma patients per year and they successfully treat 80% of patients. 800 saved hurray! But, for the same price, Watson could develop treatments for 10,000 patients, saving 4,000 of them. The of course there is the fact that Watson is not a build once and done kind of system. Every year there'd be 10,000 new pieces of information to be entered into the system, refining the probabilities further and further. Sooner or later, Watson will be not just equal to the human team, but will far surpass it.

Re:Faster, but smarter? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46535145)

I know the VA was looking to reduce costs by analyzing treatments. They would never tell a Dr. you can't perform treatment X, instead if he favors things considered outside the norm by the path determined by the "experts" in the field, they would analyze why. They found a good amount of the time a Dr. didn't know about a treatment, new drug, etc so this was a good way of doing continuing education. Other times, the Dr. was right, so they then considered if the program should be updated. I know it was opposed by Dr.'s at first, but within the first year saved them a lot of money and was liked by the Dr.'s as they still had their freedom but they also had a tool which they saw as helping them improve.

As a side note, I know a legally blind Dr. who was kept on the staff because he had a photographic memory; when they weren't sure about something, they would use him as a second opinion. He couldn't always tell them exactly what to try, but he could usually tell them relevant pages in medical journals (based on things like typeface and remembering page numbers) and they could quickly check to see if it was relevant. As computers get better, they may be able to take more images and do comparisons, but last I heard work in that field still isn't practical (most images are just too similar). The point being, this Dr. already proved that better reference tools can make a huge difference; if we could reduce the cost (I'm sure he wasn't cheap) and make it reproducible there seems potential for real tangible gains.

Re:Faster, but smarter? (2)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 7 months ago | (#46538229)

... Lets say there are enough specialized teams to treat 1,000 glioblastoma patients per year and they successfully treat 80% of patients. 800 saved hurray! But, for the same price, Watson could develop treatments for 10,000 patients, saving 4,000 of them.

The idea of "saved" in this case is overly optimistic.

From Glioblastoma Multiforme [wikipedia.org] and Glioblastoma [abta.org] :

The median survival time from the time of diagnosis without any treatment is 3 months, but with treatment survival of 1–2 years is common.

For adults with more aggressive glioblastoma, treated with concurrent temozolamide and radiation therapy, median survival is about 14.6 months and two-year survival is 30%. However, a 2009 study reported that almost 10% of patients with glioblastoma may live five years or longer.

My wife died of this in 2006 just 7 weeks after diagnosis Remember Sue... [tumblr.com] .
Though perhaps with Watson many more people could be, at least, helped.

Re:Faster, but smarter? (1)

pitchpipe (708843) | about 7 months ago | (#46538889)

Sooner or later, Watson will be not just equal to the human team, but will far surpass it.

And then that multidisciplinary team of geneticists, oncologists, toxicologists, and general practitioners can retrain to get jobs fixing robots right alongside the truck drivers and warehouse workers.

Re:Faster, but smarter? (4, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 7 months ago | (#46534867)

I wonder if it can come up with more accurate answers over a longer term vs. a team of researchers and scientists.

Well, the point of TFA is that a "team of researchers and scientists" is not actually available or affordable for the vast majority of patients. The possibility that they might be better in theory, doesn't really help with reality. Also, Watson should improve with feedback, more data, and increased computing power.

Re:Faster, but smarter? (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 7 months ago | (#46535529)

"While Watson can come up with answers much faster than a human, as demonstrated by the Jeopardy showcase, I wonder if it can come up with more accurate answers over a longer term vs. a team of researchers and scientists."

Sure. It also has not the slightest nightmares about malpractice insurance, also no hangovers, ex-wives lawyers harassing them and it works 24/7.

So long-term, no problem.

Re:Faster, but smarter? (0)

bberens (965711) | about 7 months ago | (#46536177)

My cell phone probably has the processing power to churn out diagnoses faster and equally as accurate as your average general practitioner. It could probably do most of the lab tests too. There's already devices to do blood sugar tests and tracking on your smartphone. It won't be long (decade or two) before they can do all sorts of blood and urine tests as well as check my heart rate and other vitals. My cell phone will be less forgetful and have more up to date information than the average physician. What my cell phone will lack is bedside manner. As a fairly non-emotional person I'm looking forward to my ability to have my cell phone provide me with scripts for 99% of the the things that go wrong with people.

Re:Faster, but smarter? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 7 months ago | (#46538757)

You may not have long to wait before Watson is in your phone. The Watson that won Jeopardy was huge, it required 20 tons of equipment just to keep it cool, recently Watson has now been squashed into a 50kg "bar fridge" server. IBM have said they will start leasing instances of Watson to third party developers sometime this year. I've been watching Watson with interest for some time now and despite the cheesy corporate videos I think Watson is indeed the game changer IBM claims it to be.

Neurosurgery Research (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46534437)

This is good news for the future of medical AI, but in a frank discussion with a neurosurgeon about research in this area, he admitted that glioblastoma patients are the first place we see a lot of experimental treatments because their prognosis is so poor they'll try anything. If you come up with a mildly reasonable excuse to hit them in the head with a brick, they'll jump at the opportunity to use brickotherapy to cure their cancer.

The point is, the extremely poor prognosis means that there's a low bar for something to work, not that this is the area Watson is most needed or could make the greatest impact.

I still view it as an extremely positive development, just trying to temper the enthusiasm.

Much better than Watson's previous job (2)

sensei moreh (868829) | about 7 months ago | (#46534445)

Much better than developing recipes for a food truck

Re:Much better than Watson's previous job (2)

ThatsDrDangerToYou (3480047) | about 7 months ago | (#46534769)

Sure, but what a lousy bedside manner! Just sayin..

Cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46534505)

Doctor "We can technically create bespoke treatments for cancer but there are huge numbers of variables and the analysis is prohibitively expensive and time consuming."
IBM Tech "We have a supercomputer that can do that analysis on a large scale and is designed to parse vast quantities of data down to the relevant information and posit solutions based on the existing data."
Doctor & IBM Tech "A potential solution, Announce now and we'll figure out implementation later!"

Mod parent down! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46534617)

You insensitive, heartless scum. How dare you be so negative about cancer patients.

AI is heeeeeeeeeere (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46534559)

It's replacing highly skilled people in specific domains. It's coming to get you specialist medical technicians. You're next taxi drivers and truckers. Whose head is on the chopping block after that?

I still suspect programmers, but it could be someone else.

Re:AI is heeeeeeeeeere (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 7 months ago | (#46534629)

If you don't get kicked by machines then you get kicked by offshoring. The future's so bright, my robot wears shades.

Re:AI is heeeeeeeeeere (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 7 months ago | (#46534803)

It's replacing highly skilled people in specific domains. It's coming to get you specialist medical technicians. You're next taxi drivers and truckers. Whose head is on the chopping block after that?

I still suspect programmers, but it could be someone else.

Honestly, I'm a bit surprised that most programming isn't automated these days.

Considering how much sci-fi I've seen regarding AI gone wild, perhaps we should be thankful the machines cannot yet give themselves new instructions.

Re:AI is heeeeeeeeeere (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 7 months ago | (#46537403)

Honestly, I'm a bit surprised that most programming isn't automated these days.

Most programming has been automated for decades. It's computers that generate dozens of machine instructions for each line of code you write. You don't have to figure out a vast majority of that stuff anymore.

Re:AI is heeeeeeeeeere (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46537829)

Coding is automated. It is very unlikely programming will be- at least, not for the foreseeable future.

This is not good... very bad things, this way come (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46534583)

The resources should be put toward cannabis research instead. The combination of an alkaline diet, elimination of processed and chemical/synthesized foods from the diet, choosing food by one's blood type and PROPER use of medicinal cannabis... most cancers don't stand a chance.

By the way, do you have BTC sitting around in a wallet? Mine is currently earning .5% a Day at a site that's about to leave Beta. Scrypt.CC?ref=baagt is the place and it's rockin. :) Questions? Hit up #scrypt.cc on Freenode.net.

Keep it Clean! :D

not a very good tool (3, Funny)

callmetheraven (711291) | about 7 months ago | (#46534719)

Screw Dr Watson, that stupid program totally failed to fix my Windows 3.11 back in 1995.

How long until... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46534731)

How long until it comes to the conclusion that Humanity is the only cancer that needs erradication?

Re:How long until... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46537691)

I give it three years.

Why is Watson needed for this? (1)

DumbSwede (521261) | about 7 months ago | (#46534777)

While I applaud the goal, I don’t see why a machine optimized to understand general language queries is the best platform for this application. What Watson did to win at Jeopardy doesn’t seem to have that much of a connection to decoding which genome sequences affect protein pathways and affect cancer progression. Granted both require a lot of brute force searching, but not all search algorithms are equal. Watson was good at searching general language – surely there are better search algorithms for this search space and better machines on which to run them.

Re:Why is Watson needed for this? (3, Insightful)

MightyYar (622222) | about 7 months ago | (#46534933)

There are a couple of possibilities. It is entirely possible that the very smart people working on Watson recognized some overlap between the two problem sets and recognized that they could apply lessons learned to this new goal. It is also entirely possible that marketing decided to "cure cancer" and paid very little heed to what Watson did in the past.

Re:Why is Watson needed for this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46535675)

Watson can find the correllations and remember them. I seem to remember another AI that was fed thousands of medical papers and was able to find overlaps and new connections from a variety of tangentially related articles. I think companies might have a major security problem though if the put watson in charge of customer service, watson might reveal sensitive information based on inference. I'd like to sic him on legislators to get a good idea what their legislation will do in actuality.

Re: Why is Watson needed for this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46535605)

Natural language parsing requires semantic and contextual understanding. Natural language isn't XML.

Re:Why is Watson needed for this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46535633)

Because IBM has invested billions of dollars in this project and healthcare is the biggest pool of cash they can go after to get some of that back. It might work, it might not - doesn't matter as long as they can drink from the pool.

Re:Why is Watson needed for this? (1)

Third Position (1725934) | about 7 months ago | (#46536889)

It's not a matter of whether cancer research needs Watson, it's a matter of IBM having dumped a large amount of R&D dollars into a solution in search of a problem. This is merely a last-ditch effort to make it pay off.

Re:Why is Watson needed for this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46541599)

a solution in search of a problem

That's called science, bitch.

Re:Why is Watson needed for this? (1)

ausekilis (1513635) | about 7 months ago | (#46537921)

Think a bit more about what it means to communicate and what that means for a computer.

  1. You receive some sort of input, a data packet
  2. You segregate it, or parse it
  3. You do some interpretation, understand the contituent parts
  4. You "understand" it, or have applied some understanding to the data (i.e. an integer within a struct)
  5. You respond, in this case Watson would say "cancerous" or "not"

Watson is developed to do just that, it doesn't matter if the data itself is natural speech or genetic data. Data is data and can be separated and processed similarly. The kicker here is that with a genetic code, the "data segments" (words) aren't so readily defined, and the meanings of all those things are not so clear to people. So while on the outside we'll be seeing Watson (potentially) give a "yay" or "nay" to each data item, internally it will be developing some mathematical function to help distinguish and refine it's answers. That equation or "understanding" is what will provide a distinguisher for people to apply. Given the size of the data set and some human verified True/False answer to each piece of data being cancerous, it makes lots of sense that something with the computing power of Watson be thrown into it.

Re:Why is Watson needed for this? (1)

cblack (4342) | about 7 months ago | (#46539179)

Disclosure: I work at the NY Genome Center.
The reason the language processing is important is because this application of Watson ingests journal articles to "learn" that tumors with mutation X affect pathway P and cross reference that with other articles that might say drug D is effective for regulating pathway P.
This creates a knowledge base watson can then use to apply to a sequenced tumor that has mutations that may include X and can suggest the possible effectiveness of drug D.
The Watson team has done a fair amount of work over the past few years to get Watson to "understand" the language and terms used in medical journal articles to enable it to extract information from the plain text articles.
One of the main wins of Watson isn't so much the query front end, but the ability to use unstructured text to develop networks of related assertions.

Re:Why is Watson needed for this? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 7 months ago | (#46539217)

What Watson did to win at Jeopardy doesn’t seem to have that much of a connection to decoding which genome sequences affect protein pathways

Consider that Watson is programmed to learn and then tutored by experts in a particular domain. The are two types of experts, experts in the subject under question and experts in the behaviour of Watson. Also consider that Watson has been at "medical school" for the past year or so, and if allowed, could in all likelihood pass the test for a license to practice medicine in the US.

Watson is first and foremost a pattern seeking engine and both very dissimilar tasks can be boiled down to seeking an arbitrary pattern in very large data sets. It's algorithm is similar to how the human brain is thought to work, the right side throws up gazillions of relationships it finds in its sensory data, the left side tries to pick out the ones that have meaning in the current context. Watson does the right brain task first and generates a pile of random relationships it finds in the data that can somehow (however tenuously) be linked to the question, most will be badly out of context and irrelevant. It then performs the left brain task and pares down the pile of relationships using the current context, confirmed facts (axioms), and statistics until it finds the most probable answer(s).

As someone who earned his CS degree 20-odd years ago I find Watson to be an impressive achievement, it walks all over previous attempts in both bound and un-bound problem spaces. I showed the game-show stunt to the (Business degree qualified) wife who said, "It's looking up the answers. What's the big deal?", I really think that most people simply don't "get it" and are much more impressed by the talking monitor gimmick.

Re:Why is Watson needed for this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46541571)

Watson isn't a machine. The hardware substrate has been completely changed over the last few years. So there are never likely to be substantially better machines than (the machine) Watson (is running on) - if there were, you'd just migrate him to one.

Secondly, why does there have to be a connection? There's not much connection between proving Fermat's Last Theorem and writing Beethoven's V, but the same basic algorithms running on the same basic hardware did them both. That's the whole point of AI - that general systems exist which can solve a disparate range of problems, the brain being the canonical example. And here Watson is, proving the point.

Thirdly, define "best platform" in this context. There is no other (computational) system that can do this. So any platform that succeeds is de facto the best platform. Slow working code beats fast non-working code every time.

Finally, what "search space"? The search space is basically unknown, that's the whole point, otherwise Blue Gene could have done it. Watson figures out the search space. Maybe then Watson can program another machine with a more efficient algorithm on that search space ... and I'm sure that's coming ... say hello to obsolescence, humanity!

BS (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46536633)

watson is a highly overrated marketing tool. is it possible it will find a "link" between a treatment modality and a particular genotype? sure. so would any number of dedicated machine learning techniques run on some HPC. its about quality of data input, quantity, clinical parameters etc etc. and then clinical trial after trial to show that machine aided decision making works better (or help supplement) a medical doctors opinion. there is nothing magical about watson except maybe what kind of rainbows and puppy dog press a billion dollar business investment will get you.

Antropomorphism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46536779)

The marketing team decided that a famous named computer will help people better connect with IBM. Watson is a celebrity, as much as Britney Spears. Other than that, if a computer is reprogrammed to do something else, it becomes a different computer. It's not like it has an underlying personality, like humans have.

Diagnosis (1)

FuzzNugget (2840687) | about 7 months ago | (#46537417)

Toronto???

I have cancer (1)

Mister Liberty (769145) | about 7 months ago | (#46538223)

I'd sooner die than be ad material for IBM.

cancer solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46570265)

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