Ushering in a new era of computing in support of medical research and patient treatment, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and IBM jointly announced on Friday that MD Anderson is using the IBM Watson cognitive computing system as a key tool in its mission to eradicate cancer.
Following a year-long collaboration, IBM and MD Anderson showcased a prototype of MD Anderson’s Oncology Expert Advisor powered by IBM Watson, designed to integrate the knowledge of MD Anderson’s clinicians and researchers, and to advance the cancer center’s goal of treating patients with the most effective, safe and evidence-based standard of care available. Starting with the fight against Leukemia, MD Anderson’s Oncology Expert Advisor is expected to help MD Anderson clinicians develop, observe and fine-tune treatment plans for patients, while helping them recognize adverse events that may occur throughout the care continuum. The cognitive-powered technology is also expected to help researchers advance novel discoveries.
The MD Anderson Oncology Expert Advisor is expected to help physicians improve the future care of cancer patients by enabling comparison of patients based on a new range of data-driven attributes, previously unavailable for analysis. For example, MD Anderson’s clinical care and research teams can compare groups of patients to identify those patients who responded differently to therapies and discover attributes that may account for their differences. This analysis will then inform the generation of testable hypotheses to help researchers and clinicians to advance cancer care continually.
The Oncology Expert Advisor is expected to be accessible to the cancer center’s network of clinicians through a computer interface and supported mobile devices, that will provide clinicians – and in turn, patients – with immediate, worldwide access to MD Anderson’s expertise and resources, and to IBM Watson’s technology prowess in quickly extracting crucial insights from large volumes of complex data.
IBM Watson represents new era of computing in which cognitive systems that can “understand” the context within users’ questions, uncover answers from Big Data, and improve in performance by continuously learning from experiences. The battle against cancer is an exemplar of the need for these types of cognitive computing capabilities. The American Cancer Society projects that 1.6 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year, within which a lethal subset is leukemia, which causes nearly one-third of all cancer deaths in children and adolescents younger than 15 years, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Moon Shots and the Big Data Divide
With more than 100,000 patients cared for each year in Houston, and tens of thousands more throughout its regional and national network, MD Anderson has accumulated an unprecedented breadth and depth of clinical oncology data and knowledge. However, extracting actionable insights from this information poses a significant logistical challenge. Valuable data from day-to-day patient care and clinical trials is often trapped in the minds and notes of clinicians and researchers, as well as in the remote databases and files of other providers who may have treated these same patients in the past.
Left unaddressed, this data accessibility and retrievability divide costs precious time and resources, and prevents physicians from accessing all the information they might need in order to best treat a patient. It also bottlenecks the pipeline through which clinical research can be completed, evaluated, approved and ultimately used in patient care. A case in point is that $95 billion is spent annually on medical research in the United States, but only six percent of clinical trials are completed on time.
“IBM Watson represents a new era of computing, in which data no longer needs to be a challenge, but rather, a catalyst to more efficiently deploy new advances into patient care,” says Manoj Saxena, General Manager, IBM Watson Solutions. “By helping researchers and physicians understand the meaning behind each other’s data, we can empower researchers with evidence to advance novel discoveries, while helping enable physicians to make the best treatment choices or place patients in the right clinical trials.”
Computer systems currently in use have delivered tremendous business and societal benefits by automating tabulation and harnessing computational processing and programming to enhance and amplify enterprise and personal productivity. However, IBM maintains that the computer systems of tomorrow – cognitive systems like Watson — will forever change the way people interact with computing systems to help users extend their expertise across any domain of knowledge and make complex decisions involving extraordinary volumes of fast moving Big Data.
The transformational technology, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, was developed in IBM’s Research Labs. Using advances in natural language processing and analytics, the Watson technology can process information similar to the way people think, representing a significant shift in the ability for organizations to quickly analyze, understand and respond to vast amounts of Big Data. The ability to use Watson to answer complex questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence has enormous potential to improve decision making across a variety of industries from health care, to retail, telecommunications and financial services.
IBM notes that when Watson defeated Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings in the television quiz show Jeopardy! Challenge of February 2011, it demonstrated that a new kind of computing system that could learn, reason, and understand natural language had arrived. Over the two years since Watson’s Jeopardy! triumph, IBM says Watson has evolved from a first-of-a-kind status to a commercial cognitive computing system, in the interim gaining a 240 percent improvement in system performance and a reduction of 75 percent in the physical requirements needed to run the system, which can now operate from a single Power 750 server with Linux and from a cloud computing environment.
In health care, Watson and Watson-like technologies are now assisting doctors at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering in diagnosing patients by providing a variety of possible causes for a set of symptoms. Watson can help doctors narrow down the options and pick the best treatments for their patients. The doctor still does most of the thinking. Watson is there to make sense of the data and help make the process faster and more accurate.
The promise of cognitive systems is for technologies that use natural language processing and machine learning to enable people and machines to interact more naturally in order to extend and magnify human expertise and cognition with systems that can learn and interact in order to provide expert assistance in a fraction of the time it now takes.
Preparing Watson for MD Anderson “Moon Shots”
IBM’s Watson technology is expected to play a key role within APOLLO, a technology-driven “adaptive learning environment” that MD Anderson is developing as part of its Moon Shots program. APOLLO enables iterative and continued learning between clinical care and research by creating an environment that streamlines and standardizes the longitudinal collection, ingestion and integration of patient’s medical and clinical history, laboratory data as well as research data into MD Anderson’s centralized patient data warehouse. Once aggregated, this complex data is linked and made available for deep analyses by advanced analytics to extract novel insights that can lead to improved effectiveness of care and better patient outcomes.
The MD Anderson Center notes that one of the richest sources of valuable clinical insight trapped within this bank of patient data are the unstructured medical and research notes, and test results, for each cancer patient. Watson’s cognitive capability has been shown to be a powerful tool to extract valuable insights from such complex data and MD Anderson’s Oncology Expert Advisor capability can generate a more comprehensive profile of each cancer patient, thereby helping physicians better understand and evaluated a patient’s condition.
By identifying and weighing data-driven connections between the attributes in a patient’s profile and the knowledge corpus of published medical literature and guidelines in Watson, MD Anderson’s Oncology Expert Advisor can provide evidence-based treatment and management options that are personalized to that patient in order to assist the physician’s treatment and care decisions with options that can include not only standard approved therapies, but also appropriate investigational protocols.
“One unique aspect of the MD Anderson Oncology Expert Advisor is that it will not solely rely on established cancer care pathways to recommend appropriate treatment options,” explains Lynda Chin, M.D., professor and chair of Genomic Medicine and scientific director of the Institute for Applied Cancer Science at MD Anderson. “The system was built with the understanding that what we know today will not be enough for many patients,” says Dr. Chin in a MD Anderson release. “Therefore, our cancer patients will be automatically matched to appropriate clinical trials by the Oncology Expert Advisor. Based on evidence as well as experiences, our physicians can offer our patients a better chance to battle their cancers by participating in clinical trials on novel therapies.”
MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program is an unprecedented and highly concentrated assault against cancer. Launched in fall 2012, the initial moon shots are targeting eight cancers: acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), lung cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer and triple-negative breast cancer and high-grade serous ovarian cancer — linked at the molecular level. These projects were selected based on knowledge, technology and proof of clinical concept that would significantly reduce cancer deaths rapidly. The ultimate goal is for all cancers to become moon shots targets.
Popularly known as the MD Anderson Cancer Center, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center at Houston ranks as one of the world’s most respected centers focused on cancer patient care, research, education and prevention. One of an original three U.S. comprehensive cancer centers established by the National Cancer Act of 1971, and functioning as both a degree-granting academic institution and a cancer treatment and research hospital, the MD Anderson Cancer Center is part of the Texas Medical Center in Houston, and one of a very few hospitals in the United States affiliated with two major research based medical schools: The University of Texas Medical School at Houston — part of the massive University of Texas Health Science Center, and Baylor College of Medicine.
MD Anderson is one of only 41 comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). For nine of the past 11 years, including 2012, MD Anderson has ranked No. 1 in cancer care in “Best Hospitals,” a survey published annually in U.S. News & World Report. MD Anderson receives a cancer center support grant from the NCI of the National Institutes of Health (P30 CA016672).
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University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center