A team of physicians and analysts at Memorial Sloan Kettering has been “training” IBM Watson for more than a year to develop a tool that can help medical professionals choose the best treatment plans for individual cancer patients.
When you watch this year’s Masters golf tournament, you may notice a Memorial Sloan Kettering oncologist featured in a new IBM TV spot, which IBM's Jon Iwata discusses here. As you already may have seen on CBS This Morning or read in recent articles, such as Mark G. Kris’s piece in The Atlantic, some of our oncologists have spent the last year training IBM’s Watson to help personalize cancer care.
What Is Watson?
For those who don’t know, IBM Watson™ (made famous by its Jeopardy! win) is a powerful cognitive technology developed by IBM that processes information more like a human than a computer, by understanding natural language, generating hypotheses based on evidence, and learning as it goes. But beyond Jeopardy!, what if Watson’s power could also be used for the greater good, to help medical professionals choose treatment options for cancers?
Cancer is not one disease but a cluster of diseases with hundreds of subtypes, each with a different genetic fingerprint. Although significant discoveries have delivered extraordinary insights into cancer biology and strategies for targeting specific molecular alterations in tumors, these advances have also increased the complexity of treating individual patients. Vast amounts of rapidly changing information means it can take years for the latest developments in oncology to become standard care across all communities.
Why Watson and Memorial Sloan Kettering
When utilizing Memorial Sloan Kettering’s unmatched breadth and depth of experience, gained from treating more than 30,000 patients with cancer every year, Watson will take information about a specific patient and match it to a huge knowledge base incorporating published literature and the treatment history of similar patients. Watson’s ability to mine massive quantities of data means that it can also keep up — at record speeds — with the latest medical breakthroughs reported in scientific journals and medical meetings. Additionally, because it utilizes cognitive computing, Watson continually “learns,” thereby improving its accuracy and confidence in the treatment options it suggests.
Memorial Sloan Kettering clinicians and analysts have been hard at work training Watson to extract and interpret physician notes, lab results, and clinical research. (All identifying patient information is removed prior to beginning the process.) Memorial Sloan Kettering’s expertise and experience with thousands of patients are the basis for teaching Watson how to translate data into actionable clinical practice based on a patient’s unique cancer. While initially focused only on breast and lung cancers, the work has expanded to more than a dozen other common solid and blood cancers such as colon, prostate, bladder, ovarian, cervical, pancreas, kidney, liver, and uterine, as well as melanomas and lymphomas.
How the Tool Can Work
Infographic: Advancing the Future of Personalized Cancer Care
The tool — currently in development — is designed to help oncologists anywhere make the best treatment decisions for their individual patients. It learns to prompt physicians if missing information is needed to determine an initial set of treatment options. The goal is to display several choices for the physician with various degrees of confidence and to provide supporting evidence from guidelines, published research, and Memorial Sloan Kettering’s breadth of knowledge.
By combining Memorial Sloan Kettering’s world-renowned cancer expertise with the analytical speed of IBM Watson, the tool has the potential to transform how doctors provide individualized cancer treatment plans and to help improve patient outcomes. Oncologists anywhere will be able to make more specific and nuanced treatment decisions more quickly, based on the latest data.
The tool also has the potential to help transform clinical research by allowing doctors to match patients to clinical trials, as well as gather additional data to prompt new research opportunities. Additionally, it can be used to reduce variation in cancer care, decrease the time it takes for the latest research to enter clinical practice, increase adherence to evidence-based medicine, as well as share the wisdom and knowledge of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s expert clinicians.
Watch the video above to learn more about Memorial Sloan Kettering’s collaboration with IBM Watson. Keep a lookout for IBM’s new ad campaign and more updates from Memorial Sloan Kettering on our partnership with IBM Watson.