Collaboration impacts personalized cancer treatment

May 06, 2015

Image with caption: Babu Guda, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Bioinformatics Systems Biology Core Facility at UNMC

Babu Guda, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Bioinformatics Systems Biology Core Facility at UNMC

The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center has partnered with IBM to conduct early testing and feedback for IBM's Watson Genomic Analytics program.

The IBM program in minutes identifies relevant mutations and potential drugs that may be considered in a treatment regime -- all based on the patient's genomic profile and the specific mutations.

The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine in Omaha, is one of 14 leading cancer institutes to partner on the project, which is part of IBM's broader Watson Health initiative to advance patient-centered care and improve health while building on IBM research advancements.

Most of the 1.6 million Americans who are diagnosed with cancer each year receive standard treatment. When standard treatment fails and with genetic sequencing becoming increasingly accessible and affordable, some patients are beginning to benefit from treatments that target their specific cancer-causing genetic mutations.

Babu Guda, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Bioinformatics Systems Biology Core Facility at UNMC, will be collaborating with Ken Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center and breast cancer physician, to analyze cancer tumor genomes on the project.

"IBM has fed millions of research articles into the program, including biomedical research and clinical information," Dr. Guda said. "The cognitive computer can keep track of the complex relationships among gene mutations, drug treatments and treatment outcomes."

IBM describes cognitive computing as computers that learn and interact naturally with people to extend what either humans or machines could do on their own to help human experts make better decisions.

With each patient, the cancer center team is sequencing the genomes of normal and tumor tissues and identifying variations that are specific to the tumor tissues. Tumors can have many mutations, but some -- "driver mutations" -- are critical for the initiation and progression of cancer.

"Typically, we get several thousands (of variations)," Dr. Guda said. "Not every change is important, but some driver mutations or other serious mutations that alter cellular function may give a selective advantage for cancer cells to proliferate and spread the disease to distant locations," he said.

Steve Harvey, vice president, IBM Watson Health, said Watson will help deliver personalized cancer care using the latest advances in science by integrating complex and disparate data in a cognitive system. "Ultimately, our goal is to create a solution that any oncologist in any location can use to identify personalized treatment options for their patients."

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Andrea Anderson
May 06, 2015 at 1:24 PM

What an exciting step in helping provide the best care to our patients!