Plus, Watson can work around the clock, and it learns the
papers that come out immediately rather than months later.
Watson also remembers patients and will alert a doctor if a
new trial or treatment option opens up.
have anything to do with the cancer.
On the other hand, the patients who are relying on
this technology have few options, said Dr.Billy Kim, a
“From that moment of, ‘Hey, Watson can do that,’ it’s fast-forward a few years and it’s the only way to do it,” Sharpless
said. “Usually change takes more like a decade if not 15 years.
The crank of clinical trials turns very slowly. So to go from
wild-eyed experimental idea to standard of care in two years
is unique in my 20 years of research.”
Lineberger center member and associate professor of
medicine and genetics. “So you get in this place of, what
does someone with few options do.”
Which doesn’t mean that Watson is curing cancer. That’s
where there has been some confusion as its reputation has
spread. Some early publicity surrounding the prestigious M.D.
Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas left the
impression that Watson already was revolutionizing cancer
care. More accurately, it’s being used to connect to cutting-edge trials the million or so Americans whose cancers haven’t
responded to standard treatments.
That’s where Watson shines, in helping direct people
to clinical trials that might help prolong their lives. The
decisions are still up to the physician. Watson simply presents
maybe half a dozen trials,
recommends which one
appears to be best for
this particular patient’s
genome, and provides
the exact research
paper supporting that
Not only did Watson find
everything the humans found,
but in more than 300 patients
Watson found something that
had eluded the humans.
“What I think about every day when I wake up is only 5
to 7 percent of people who might benefit from this type of a
procedure are actually having it done,” Harvey said, “and that’s
a really small number. This is one of the great things Ned and
his team have done with the UNC program, and it elevates
their care to a different level from what most people would
have the ability to experience within the United States.”
The utility of tumor genome sequencing is still up for
debate. A lot of the mutations that are found don’t seem to
“For five years this
took a lot of time per
patient, but what Watson
does is sort of fast-forward that research and data mining
and presents everything all at one go, which helps me
spend more time deciding which relevant option is useful
for the patient rather than finding the data in the first
place,” Patel said. “It speeds me past the icky middle step
of sitting in the library and learning stuff and takes me
to the higher-level information that I or Ned can rapidly
Spring 2017 brings a special issue on
Appalachia, and with it: Dollywood’s
hillbilly identity. Country queers in
Central Appalachia. Black and white
Asheville through a spy camera. The
soundscape of Harlan County, U.S.A.
Read, research, & subscribe:
Photograph by Aaron Blum, from “Almost Heaven”
in the Appalachia Issue (Spring 2017).
CAROLINA ALUMNI REVIEW
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