Hospital to use IBM’s Watson for cancer care

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Hospital to use IBM’s Watson for cancer care


Rob Merkel, vice president of oncology and genomics at IBM Watson Health. [IBM KOREA]

Gachon University Gil Medical Center, a general hospital in Incheon, has partnered with IBM to utilize the tech company’s Watson artificial intelligence supercomputer to help with cancer diagnoses and advise on treatments starting Oct. 15. The hospital will be the first in Korea to adopt artificial intelligence for medical services.

IBM Watson for Oncology, a cloud-based machine-learning platform, was designed to provide physicians with evidence-based medical treatment options. The supercomputer analyzes large volumes of medical information and references available to help doctors offer individualized, data-driven treatment options for cancer patients.

The machine itself, though, won’t diagnose diseases. Watson will only be able to flag things that it believes a physician should more closely examine and propose possible treatments.

In the initial phase, Gil Medical Center clinicians will use Watson for Oncology to help treat breast, lung, colon, rectal and gastric cancer, with the hope of later expanding to other forms of cancer.

The disease is the leading cause of death in Korea. The five most common types among Korean men are colorectal, stomach, lung, liver and thyroid, and for women, they are thyroid, breast, colorectal, stomach, and lung cancer.

The medical center is accepting reservations starting today for appointments with Watson.

“Our clinical staff always aims to provide effective, personalized and evidence-based care to every patient we treat, but it can be difficult to keep up with the latest scientific studies from around the world,” said Uhn Lee, director of AI-based Precision Medicine at Gachon University Gil Medical Center, during a press conference in central Seoul on Thursday.

“With its ability to analyze large volumes of disparate data and synthesize that data into actionable information, Watson for Oncology will help our clinicians deliver world-class, data-driven care to their patients.”

Lee stressed that the supercomputer would not be replacing doctors and would remain an “adviser,” mentioning recently surfaced fears over artificial intelligence triggered by the May 7 crash of a Tesla Model S operating in autopilot mode that killed the driver.

“I would compare Watson for Oncology to a navigation system in a vehicle,” he said. “The final decision is supposed to be made by the driver, I mean, doctor.”

“By integrating Watson technology into cancer care, Gil Medical Center will have the ability to advance its leadership in personalized medicine and technology innovation,” said Rob Merkel, vice president of oncology and genomics at IBM Watson Health.

Watson is the first cognitive computing program to be made commercially available. Last April, IBM launched a platform called IBM Watson Health and the Watson Health Cloud to help doctors, researchers and health insurers gather insight from the massive amount of personal health data being created and shared daily.

Over 10 American and Canadian cancer institutes adopted the computer system, and this year, IBM has been expanding its reach to Asia, starting with one hospital in Thailand and hospitals in India and China.

There is no published research yet on how Watson’s advice impacts patients’ health. Preliminary studies show Watson is fairly good at recommending treatment, Lee said.

Gachon University Gil Medical Center is the fifth-largest general hospital in Korea, with 1,400 licensed beds. Oncologists at the hospital care for 50,000 cancer patients each year.

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