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March 15, 2012

New Platform Caters to Cancer Research

Robert Gelber

Advancements in genomics have opened up a number of possibilities that could alter the landscape of traditional practices in the medical field. One area of research that carries considerable promise is personalized medicine. Last Thursday, IBM announced that it has launched a platform offering such treatments to cancer patients.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences says that in the past, doctors would take a singular approach to treating all of their patients. Depending on the response, changes in drugs, dosage or any number of factors would be made in a trial and error process.

Today, an excess of 3 million genetic variations have already been discovered, a number of which explain why people react differently to certain treatments. For example, one gene variant has been identified as the reason for reduced effectiveness in the anti-clotting drug Plavix.

Understanding this evolution from general to personal treatment, IBM has developed a new platform called Clinical Genomics. The system will deliver treatment suggestions based on many factors including automated interpretation of pathology guidelines, a patient’s documented hospital cases, genetic profile and family history.

The program is a collaboration of big blue and Italian cancer center Fondazione IRCCS Istuto Nazionale de Tumori. IBM’s Researchers in Haifa, Israel carried out development, which combines medical history, and past guideline analysis. Using this information, the scientists learned that more aggressive treatments were prescribed to women for the same issues men were having. Another interesting find, showed that geriatric patients actually do worse with treatment as opposed to receiving none for some diseases.

Beyond helping cancer patients, the platform is also set to help patients with long-term diseases like hypertension and AIDS. IBM hopes to create a roadmap for patient healthcare, giving medical professionals tools that result in better outcomes, while improving collective reporting to administrators.

This is not the company’s first foray into medical research as Watson has found employment among medical staff at Columbia University and Wellpoint despite the tough jobs market. Some technologies created during the development of the game show champ have been integrated in the Clinical Genomics platform, most notably its language processing and machine-learning algorithms. Despite its popularity, big blue seems to avoid using the Watson brand when new platforms incorporate its underlying features. ;

Regardless of the name, the implementation of personalized healthcare carries a lot of potential. In an industry that could cripple the US economy with runaway costs, targeted and effective treatment may be the answer to avoiding another financial crisis.  ; ; ;

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