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Doctors seek help on cancer treatment from IBM supercomputer

By Nicola Leske

(Reuters) - IBM's Watson supercomputer has beaten expert "Jeopardy" quiz show contestants, and its predecessor defeated a world chess champion. Now, doctors hope it can help them outsmart cancer.

Oncologists at two medical groups have started to test IBM's Watson's supercomputer system in an effort to improve speed and efficacy of treatments, the company said on Friday.

The Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and Westmed Medical Group will begin testing an application based on Watson's cognitive computing to help diagnose lung cancer and recommend treatment, IBM said.

"Access to comprehensive care can be difficult in rural areas such as southern Maine," said Tracey Weisberg, medical oncology president at Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and Blood Disorders.

"This allows the most comprehensive evidence based treatment we could have only dreamed of in the past," she added.

Watson is an artificial intelligence super computer system named after legendary International Business Machines President Thomas Watson.

Thanks to its computing power Watson can sift through 1.5 million patient records and histories to provide treatment options in a matter of seconds based on previous treatment outcomes and patient histories.

It has been fed with more than 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, 2 million pages of text from 42 medical journals and clinical trials in the area of oncology research, IBM said.

In addition, IBM partnered with clinicians and technology experts from health insurer WellPoint and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who spent thousands of hours to teach Watson how to process, analyze and interpret the meaning of complex clinical information, IBM said.

"Every doctor knows they cannot keep up with hundreds of new articles but every physician wants to be right and this is a way of facilitating that," said Samuel Nussbaum, chief medical officer at WellPoint.

IBM first showcased Watson's powers almost two years ago.

The computer beat two human competitors on the popular U.S. quiz show "Jeopardy!" highlighting the progress people have made in making machines able to think like them.

IBM has since further advanced Watson's linguistic and analytical abilities to develop new products such as medical diagnosis.

(Reporting By Nicola Leske; Editing by David Gregorio)

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