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Next challenge for IBM’s Watson: Cancer care

N.Y. hospital to train supercomputer

Topics: Information Technology, Oncology, Service Lines

March 23, 2012

IBM's Watson will continue its medical training with a residency at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which will update the supercomputer's vast database with the latest oncology research.

To strengthen Watson's capabilities as a medical resource, researchers will feed it information from textbooks, medical journals, and individual electronic health records (EHRs), with patient permission.

The EHRs provided to Watson will come from Sloan-Kettering patients and contain physicians' plain-language notations. Sloan-Kettering staff and IBM also prepared a video of how the collaboration will work.

Larry Norton, deputy chief for breast cancer programs at Sloan-Kettering, said the notations will add "wisdom" to the computer's grasp of scientific literature. He said, "Because of our size and experience, we have super-specialized physicians in every field of cancer. And all of what they actually do is capturable in the language of our electronic medical records."

After inputting the oncology data, researchers will test Watson's knowledge using complex cancer care scenarios. The supercomputer also will be assessed by an advisory board.

Using Watson for cancer care 
Martin Kohn, chief medical scientist at IBM, said Watson's oncology training process is expected to be lengthy. He noted that cancer patients might not benefit from Watson's oncology training until the end of 2013.

After the completion of the oncology training, Watson should be able to quickly recommend cancer diagnoses and provide treatment options, Kohn said (AP/Washington Post, 3/22; Jinks, Bloomberg, 3/22).

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