IBM‘s powerful supercomputer, Watson, can make calculations at superhuman speeds, making connections between analyzed data that humans might miss. This is exactly why a team of oncologists plans to use Watson to guide cancer therapies at fourteen different cancer institutes in America and Canada. The hospitals are paying IBM a subscription fee to access the supercomputer. Watson will be especially useful to oncology institutes as cancer doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all protocol. Sure, we imagine it’s as simple as radiation or chemotherapy, but sometimes tumor cells induce odd mutations in surrounding cells, making them impervious to standard treatments.
Watson will analyze a tumor’s DNA fingerprint, matching a precise therapy to the specific tumor. Normally, it can take doctors weeks to be able to pinpoint the exact cocktail of drugs needed, but Watson only takes minutes to identify which protocol is needed to counteract each tumor’s cancer-inducing mutations.
Cancer centers using Watson will upload the genetic fingerprint of each patient’s tumor. Watson will search through the tumor’s DNA and its database of thousands of known mutations to find a working drug protocol. Watson still has difficulties finding a targetable DNA sequence on tumors with multiple mutations, even though Watson has the benefit of access to innumerable scientific journals and clinical trials in its database.
As more institutes upload tumor cell DNA to Watson, the supercomputer’s database will grow. In the future, as more genetic sequencing information is available, Watson will be able to make unforeseen connections that can save lives.