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The Future Of Genomics In Cancer Care

Apr 08, 2014   |   by Sean Hogan '88   |   Forbes

Cancer isn’t a single disease and even a type of cancer isn’t as simple as where it’s located. How can doctors treat a patient with a disease that continues to change over the course of the illness and over the time of treatment?

These are the types of very real questions doctors and patients face when treating cancer today. The good news is that we may soon have better answers in an era of genomic medicine.

One of the greatest advances since scientists first mapped the human genome a decade ago is that cancer treatment can be tailored based on DNA data. A few early patients at select cancer centers are already benefiting from this highly targeted, personalized care. With the help of systems that scale up access and insights from these discoveries — including access to the published findings of medical providers — we could see a fundamental shift in treatment that dramatically changes the standard of cancer care.

Oncologists traditionally looked at where on the body the cancer occurred and tried treatments based on that knowledge. Now they can analyze full DNA sequencing and find the mutations in cells that caused the cancer. With that knowledge, they can prescribe drugs to target that mutation, hoping to halt the molecular action, which is causing cells to replicate uncontrollably.

Using the full DNA information of the patient and their cancer, doctors have a wealth of new information to formulate treatment plans. Doctors can make these determinations by correlating data from full genome sequencing with an ever growing body of medical knowledge. Today, this process, using conventional means, can take months...

...The New York Genome Center recently selected IBM Watson, a cognitive computing system, to help make sophisticated genomic analysis a standard part of care, starting with brain cancer. Until now, we lacked the powerful analytical tools capable of making sense of vast amounts of genetic information, which is the Big Data challenge of human biology...

...By arming physicians at the point of care with the right information at the right time, new technologies like Watson are poised to make advanced, personalized medicine a reality for more cancer patients than ever before.

Sean Hogan is Vice President of Healthcare at IBM. Mr. Hogan leads IBM’s global healthcare business and specializes in advising healthcare organizations on healthcare delivery transformation. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and earned his undergraduate degree from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth.

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