Artificial intelligence program to match local cancer patients with clinical trials

Froedtert & MCW to begin using the IBM-developed computer program this fall

Dr. James Thomas, oncologist and medical director of the Froedtert and MCW Cancer Clinical trials Office and Translational Research Unit, works at his computer.

An artificial intelligence program developed by IBM called Watson will begin matching cancer patients at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin with clinical trials they’re best suited for this fall.

Dr. James Thomas, oncologist and medical director of the Froedtert and MCW Cancer Clinical trials Office and Translational Research Unit, works at his computer.
Dr. James Thomas, oncologist and medical director of the Froedtert and MCW Cancer Clinical trials Office and Translational Research Unit, works at his computer.

Watson, which has useful applications in several fields, famously beat two human competitors on the TV gameshow “Jeopardy” in 2011, and has been featured in IBM advertisement campaigns.

Froedtert & MCW will be the second hospital system in the nation to use the new technology to match cancer patients with trials, a process that typically takes weeks, but with the help of Watson, could only take minutes.

“Clinical trials are at the heart of all medical advances to find new ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer,” said Dr. James Thomas, oncologist and medical director of Froedtert & MCW’s Cancer Clinical Trials Office and Translational Research Unit. “However, no two people and no two cancers are alike.”

Watson will use a patient’s medical information and medical histories to sift through the more than 50,000 ongoing cancer clinical trials across the country and match them with the most appropriate ones. Certain clinical trials require a large number of patients who meet specific criteria, such as genetic markers, age range, tumor stage and treatment history. Watson could help connect patients to the correct trials far more efficiently.

Patients are currently matched with trials through a long and detailed review process conducted by clinical coordinators who sort through patient records to determine which meet as many as 46 different requirements.

“Watson for Clinical Trial Matching can help Froedtert & MCW doctors bring more patients and researchers together in an effort to speed the development of new cancer therapies and extend hope to patients,” said Rob Merkel, vice president of Oncology, IBM Watson Health.

IBM is developing a version of Watson specifically for the Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network that is expected to become more efficient and precise over time as it expands its body of knowledge.

 

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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