IBM’s Watson for Genomics and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) just announced a public-private research partnership to study genomics and provide tailored medical solutions to patients. This partnership is poised to expand the benefits of precision medicine to 10,000 American veterans with cancer over the next two years.
Genomics is subset of genetics dedicated to sequencing and analyzing the complete DNA content of a single cell, including each of its constituent genes. One of the goals of this approach is to better understand how both diseases and medicines are affected by a unique genomic sequence. This understanding can be leveraged into tailored medical treatments determined by a patient’s DNA.
Advances in DNA sequencing technology means that the availability of data for conducting genomics research is at an all-time high. However, without a way to process that data efficiently and analyze it relative to actual diseases, available drugs, and the most current research, practical progress toward clinical benefit may be challenging. At large medical institutions such as the VA, the sheer volume of data produced could be overwhelming to researchers and caregivers.
The partnership between IBM’s Watson for Genomics and the VA aims to overcome these obstacles in the field of oncology. According to the press release, researchers at the VA will feed genomic data into Watson and Watson will generate a report that “identifies the likely cancer-causing mutations and possible treatment options to target those specific mutations through a comprehensive review of existing medical literature.” This approach will make critical information available to healthcare providers and help them create tailored medical treatments that target specific cancer-causing genetic mutations.
According to Dr. David J. Shulkin, Department of Veterans Affairs Under Secretary for Health, “[w]ith the help of Watson’s cognitive computing power, VA plans to bring precision treatment options to almost 30 times more patients than could be previously served.”