Paging Dr. Watson

In the future, will your recommended cancer treatment be decided by a computer?  That is what IBM hopes with the launch of their Watson for Genomics project.  CNET reports:

Typically, finding the appropriate treatment for a specific patient means sequencing his or her genome — the complete DNA structure packed into a single cell — finding mutations and then getting a team of seasoned doctors in a room to decide the best options. Watson can do it in less than three minutes…

Watson for Genomics will take on the data-intensive task of searching through sequenced DNA of patients from the Veterans Affairs Department, finding mutations and scanning medical literature to pinpoint the therapeutic treatments that would work best. The program promises to identify customized regimens for 10,000 US veterans during the next two years.

However, patient treatment preferences are likely to vary.  One drug may be more effective but have serious side effects, another may be less effective but fewer side effects.  It is unclear how Watson would take into account these patient preferences.

Thus, a more likely solution is that a Watson-physician team will present treatment options to patients. Physicians will not be replaced, their role will just change.

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