IBM's Watson Could Offer Customised Treatment to Every Cancer Patient

By Chris Mills on at

Rather than relying on extreme approaches like chemotherapy and radiation treatments, cutting-edge cancer cures are looking more towards a surgical strike, tailored to shutting down the mutations that are driving growth. And the secret weapon in that fight might just be a well-known Jeopardy contestant.

IBM’s Watson supercomputer rose to fame when it trounced two human Jeopardy contestants in 2011. And since then, it’s kept itself busy, as a chef, bartender, and even pseudo-doctor. Watson has even dabbled in cancer before. But the latest foray is the most impressive.

Doctors from participating clinics will upload the DNA fingerprint of a tumour, and Watson will scour its memory banks, trying to work out which mutation is driving tumour growth, and what drug — approved or experimental — is best suited to attack the ailment, based on its knowledge of medicine, and the many clinical trials fed into its brain.

In that regard, it isn’t just matching human doctors: it’s using the obscene computing power at its disposal to find the best cure. It’s not a system that will suddenly eradicate cancer — there are still tumours that will puzzle Watson, and radiation/chemotherapy will still be the best treatment in some cases — but it’s a pretty big stepping stone on the path towards more personalised, more effective medicine. [Reuters]