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IBM’s Watson starts work at Cedars-Sinai’s cancer center

Very soon, oncologists at the Cedars-Sinai’s cancer center could get expert advice from the IBM Watson supercomputer in seconds. IBM is working with WellPoint, the largest health plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield on a software solution running on the Watson platform that will evaluate in real time cancer treatment options based on historical cancer treatment database to deliver diagnostic assessments of patients to their oncologists within seconds.

The software will effectively harness the powerful Watson supercomputer into a robotic adviser to cancer specialists at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute of the Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, according to the worldwide marketing director for the IBM Watson solution, Steve Gold.

The hospital’s cancer data and current clinical records will populate an iteration of IBM’s Watson and will be housed at WellPoint’s headquarters to be accessed over a WAN. The computer will serve as a medical database on multiple cancer types and their proven treatment over the years. In the meantime, WellPoint and Cedars-Sinai doctors work together to design and develop the needed application that will validate the computer’s assessment advices.

WellPoint’s clinical professionals will work with the center’s director, Dr. M. William Audeh, to provide the framework on how best to utilizes Watson’s power in clinical practice to further an understanding of the evolving knowledge on cancer, along with novel therapies many doctors may not be aware of.

IBM had earlier announced this year that the healthcare sector would get the first commercial software solution on Watson. And by fall, IBM has partnered with WellPoint to start harnessing the computer to enhance patient care using a wealth of evidentiary medicine that only a supercomputer can shift through, analyze and make recommendations. The software being developed will standardize patient therapies by isolating proven treatment practices. One example of evidence-based medicine when patients just treated for a heart attack gets an aspirin regimen after being discharged. Cedars-Sinai will be the first hospital to benefit from the partnership.

IBM’s Watson uses up to 90 IBM Power 750 Express servers each powered by 8-core processors, four in each for a total of 32 processors per server. Virtualized by kernel-based software to create a multi-server cluster, the total processing power goes up to 80 teraflops or 80 million operations per second. It has the power to support memory-intensive applications designed to answer a complex question in three seconds, such as what is envisioned for the WellPoint cancer database.

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  • Fred Jacobs

    I’m not sure that I like the sounds of this. I guess having access to the latest research would be beneficial but… well, it sounds an awful lot like letting a computer made medical decisions. I would prefer my doctor to be doing that and I’m afraid that there would be some that would get lazy.