NEW YORK (AP) -- IBM is teaming up with the New York Genome Center to help fight brain cancer.
The company said Wednesday that its Watson cloud computing system will be used in partnership with a New York-based genetic research center mainly to help sequence DNA for the treatment of glioblastoma, the most common type of brain cancer in U.S. adults.
New York Genome Center, a consortium of academic, medical and industry officials, will use Watson to sequence the DNA of cancer tumors at much faster rate than would be possible if done by a human being. The DNA information would then be combined with clinical information and fed to Watson to help determine the best way to treat a particular patient.
What makes Watson unique is that it isn't programed like most computers. Instead of relying on the information that's put into it, Watson learns by "reading" vast amounts of information and combining it with the results of previous work to find answers to problems. Those characteristics make Watson ideal for extremely data-heavy work in fields such as health care and finance.
John Kelly, a senior vice president and director of IBM research, says there's a vast amount of data involved in DNA sequencing, which then must be combined with all of the clinical data involved in a particular patient's case. The resulting pool of information is so big that it's impossible for people to deal with.
"This is sort of big data on steroids," Kelly says.
Dr. Robert Darnell, New York Genome's president, CEO and scientific director, says that to completely analyze one person's brain tumor, doctors would have to sequence 800 billion base pairs of DNA, adding that it took him a year sequence 140 pairs by himself. In comparison, Watson can sequence 75 million base pairs in one second.