Podcast: IBM: Watson’s war on cancer


As head of University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Cancer Center and one of the world’s premier oncologists, Dr. Norman Sharpless recognizes cancer to be the sort of big data problem that computers might help physicians solve. And he’s embracing a cognitive computer, IBM Watson, to help his team recommend personalized cancer care for his patients.

Sharpless’s UNC team is training Watson to analyze patient data, unstructured information (think scribbled doctor’s notes), genomic sequences and a continual stream of clinical trial results and medical literature in hopes that Watson can suggest effective treatment options for each new case. If Watson can do that, Sharpless says, it would help physicians mitigate the time and tremendous expense that comes with ineffective treatments. It could also completely change the nature of cancer research. But first thing’s first.

Sharpless is calling for a clinical trial pitting a team of doctors using traditional methods of research against a Watson-enabled team of doctors. And he’s confident that ultimately, the Watson-enabled team will win.

Photo: Nuno Job, Flickr

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