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IBM: OK, Watson, you've won Jeopardy. Now, CURE CANCER

Uber-computer to analyse reams of research

IBM Watson QA Power7 cluster

IBM has found yet another use for its Jeopardy-winning Watson supercomputer, launching a new system called Watson Discovery Advisor to analyse scientific and medical research.

The new cloud-based system can figure out scientific language well enough to know how chemical compounds interact and can also understand the nuances of natural language, allowing it to comb through reams of research papers.

According to Big Blue, Watson Discovery Advisor can rapidly analyse and test hypotheses using the data contained in millions of scientific studies from public databases.

“A new scientific research paper is published nearly every 30 seconds, which equals more than a million annually. According to the National Institutes of Health, a typical researcher reads about 23 scientific papers per month, which translates to nearly 300 per year, making it humanly impossible to keep up with the ever-growing body of scientific material available,” the firm said.

The new system is already up and running on a project for Johnson & Johnson on clinical trial outcomes for medications and treatments. The study is hoping to speed up the effectiveness research on the drugs so it can match them with the right people to maximise how well they work and minimise side effects.

This kind of work is usually done manually, with three people collecting and preparing the data over ten months before they even ready to start analysis.

“On average, a scientist might read between one and five research papers on a good day,” said Dr Olivier Lichtarge, the principal investigator and professor of molecular and human genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology at Baylor College of Medicine.

“To put this in perspective with p53, there are over 70,000 papers published on this protein. Even if I’m reading five papers a day, it could take me nearly 38 years to completely understand all of the research already available today on this protein. Watson has demonstrated the potential to accelerate the rate and the quality of breakthrough discoveries."

Using the supercomputer, Lichtarge’s team identified proteins that modify p53, which is a key protein related to many cancers. Cancer researchers usually only find around one new protein to work on a year, but the Watson collaboration discovered six potential proteins to target for new research, according to IBM. ®

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