IBM’s Watson could help improve clinical oncology tools

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Insurance company WellPoint will develop a series of clinical support decision tools in partnership with the Cedars-Sinai Samuel L. Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute in Los Angeles, based on IBM’s Watson supercomputer, reports Information Week.

A primary goal of the project is to use algorithms utilized by Watson to interpret the latest research and medical literature to provide clinicians with improved patient care options in hospitals. Watson’s language processing and large volume data handling capabilities will enable oncologists to access wider ranges of information quickly.

“Previous decision support tools were much more static and were very rules-based, and the rules had to be clearly mapped out and programmed,” Andrew Lang, chief information officer at WellPoint, told the news source. “This change in the use of technology puts us on a path that enables us to take in a lot of the unstructured information that surrounds the medical field and allows us to process that in a way that will be much more relevant to physicians.”

Lang said the rapidly evolving field of oncology, emerging treatment options and the diversity of cancer as an illness were all contributing factors in the decision to apply Watson’s analytical processing capabilities to oncological research.

Although supercomputing and large volume data processing research has been ongoing for decades, advancements in the field are rarely reported in the mainstream media. However, IBM changed that when it pitted Watson against human opponents in a game of Jeopardy.

Wired reports that IBM challenged students from Harvard Business School and the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Watson had performed well following a nationally televised debut against two former Jeopardy champions, and again claimed victory over the human opposition at Harvard in November of this year.