Blog: Decoding the Research

Watson the supercomputer is joining the fight against lung cancer

Published: February 12th, 2013

Watson, IBM’s supercomputer that (or is it “who”?) beat human contestants on Jeopardy, is turning its massive data-crunching power to tackling cancer.

One of the biggest problems faced by doctors is keeping up with the vast amount of data published every day. Keeping up with every new publication would take almost 24 hours a day, every day – and that doesn’t include remembering and applying all that information.  IBM thinks Watson can sift through the data as a tool for doctors to determine which treatment is most likely to succeed for cancer patients.

Watson is a “cognitive” computer, meaning it can learn and interpret language. IBM sent Watson’s computing power to medical school, accumulating more data than any human could hold in his or her head. Thus far, it has read more than 2 million pages of text from 42 medical journals, and reviewed data from 1,500 lung cancer cases from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Doctors can use Watson’s computing power to analyze each patient and be presented with treatment options with the highest chance of success, including the data to back it up, to make the most informed decision.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering and the private healthcare company Wellpoint will also be using Watson’s computing powers to reduce costs. Watson can navigate the ins and outs of the US healthcare market to find the most efficient way to pay for treatment.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering is the first cancer hospital to use Watson’s massive intellect to help doctors treat patients. The lung cancer application will be adopted by two additional medical groups in Maine and Westchester, NY.

Move over SkyNet, this time the supercomputer is on on our side.