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IBM's Watson joins 'genomic medicine' effort

IBM said Wednesday it was joining a "genomic medicine" initiative, using its Watson supercomputer to deliver customized treatment options for cancer patients.

The US computing group said it was teaming with the New York Genome Center in a program to help doctors develop treatments tailored to each patient's genetic makeup.

The first phase will help oncologists find treatments for patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive and malignant brain cancer that kills more than 13,000 people in the United States each year.

The supercomputer will be used to scan medical journals, new studies and clinical records and correlate those with a patient's genetic mutations.

"Clinicians lack the tools and time required to bring DNA-based treatment options to their patients," said a statement from IBM and the Genome Center.

"This joint NYGC Watson initiative aims to speed up this complex process, identifying patterns in genome sequencing and medical data to unlock insights that will help clinicians bring the promise of genomic medicine to their patients."

Because Watson can continually "learn" from new data, the initiative aims to update databases that give doctors the best treatment options.

"Since the human genome was first mapped more than a decade ago, we've made tremendous progress in understanding the genetic drivers of disease," said Robert Darnell, president and scientific director of the center.

"The real challenge before us is how to make sense of massive quantities of genetic data and translate that information into better treatments for patients.

"Applying the cognitive computing power of Watson is going to revolutionize genomics and accelerate the opportunity to improve outcomes for patients with deadly diseases."

IBM vice president John Kelly said: "Doctors will be able to attack cancer and other devastating diseases with treatments that are tailored to the patient's and disease's own DNA profiles."

The initiative expands the use of the Watson supercomputer in fighting cancer, following an alliance unveiled last year with health insurer WellPoint and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York to use "big data" to help treatment.

The supercomputer gained fame by defeating two human champions in the "Jeopardy!" quiz show.

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