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AI being used to help cancer patients

IBM's artificial system (AI) Watson is entering medicine, and it’s going to be used to help cancer patients, the company said on Tuesday.

A total of 14 US and Canadian institutes will use Watson to help create personalised treatments for patients, based on the cancer’s genetic fingerprints.

The process is called DNA sequencing, and with Watson it will be accessible to many more cancer patients. Dr Lukas Wartman, from the McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, is participating in the effort.

He wrote a blog post about the project, and also said “I’m not aware of another platform that allows as much power right now nor have I seen one in development," to Forbes. He is an oncologist who specialises in leukaemia, and also a former leukaemia patient who is now cured.

Oncology is the first specialty where matching therapy to DNA has improved outcomes for some patients, inspiring the "precision medicine initiative" President Barack Obama announced in January.

But matching a therapy to DNA can take weeks, sometimes even months, but with the help of Watson, the process could last only a couple of minutes.

The participating centres are: Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago; BC Cancer Agency; City of Hope; Cleveland Clinic; Duke Cancer Institute; Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha, Nebraska; McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis; New York Genome Center; Sanford Health; University of Kansas Cancer Center; University of North Carolina Lineberger Cancer Center; University of Southern CaliforniaCenter for Applied Molecular Medicine ; University of Washington Medical Center; and Yale Cancer Center.

The end goal is for Watson to replace the way decisions are made. The decisions are currently made by a committee of doctors called a "tumor board" who look at the development and mutations and try to make a call.