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Watson the supercomputer takes on brain cancer

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Watson the supercomputer takes on brain cancer in an uncredited news article from BBC News March 20, 2014. Watson will be working on analyzing DNA data from patients afflicted with glioblastoma. Glioblastomas are the most common form of central nervous system tumor ranging from 15% of all CNS tumors. The BBC quoted the New York Genome Center's president Robert Darnell on making "great progress" in understanding the genetics of cancer. Indeed, the NYGC reported on the news of their association with Watson March 19, 2014. The announcement was made in tandem with IBM.

The NYGC news states that this work is accelerating "a new era in genomic medicine and IBM's Watson's cognitive system." Despite the fact that glioblastoma's are "common cancers" they are killers. The NYGC counts about 13,000 deaths/year related to the illness. And that's only in the United States. UCLA's Health page refers to the cancer as the "most malignant type of astrocytoma". Watson and supercomputing gives medical personnel a new tool for battling brain and other cancers. It also gives an overwhelmed medical system a tool for management of time and information. This also gives the patient personalized managed care - ironically from a thinking machine.

Apparently supercomputing, Watson and medical science collaborations are not new - as seen in the embedded video from Wired Data Life. Dr. Courtney DiNardo of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center recounts how supercomputing can assist in the management of cancer treatment. Patient data is "given" to Watson like age, treatment history, types of medicines, therapies and response to those. Watson then provides the physicians with a type of summary screen. Except in Dr. DiNardo's case she appears to be studying leukemia and not brain cancers.

But not all oncologists are with Watson and the treatment of cancer or brain cancer. In a Mashable video Dr. Jack West appears to dispute the ability of Watson to assist cancer treatment. The video report refers to an original Forbes article of Dr. West's view on supercomputing algorithms and cancer treatment. Dr. West breaks it down to Watson being a mere "algorithm" and cannot possibly mimic the human thought behind the drive to cure or manage cancer. Watson and the NYGC joint program and others may just need the "cloud" to take on cancer.


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