AI’s Role in Cancer Research
Guest Post by Anna Suarez
It’s no secret the general public has mixed views about artificial intelligence, largely stemming from a misunderstanding of the topic. In the public’s mind, AI tends to be equated to the creation of nearly lifelike robots and, although sometimes it is, there is much more to the rapidly-advancing technology.
In today’s society AI is playing an everyday role in the lives of most people, ranging from ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft to Facebook’s facial recognition, but the technology is constantly advancing. For example, Google’s new AI assistantis revolutionizing the way people go about their daily tasks, and recent advancements made possible by AI in healthcare are changing the way cancer research is approached.
Although the term “AI” dates back to the mid-1950s, it has become so sophisticated in recent years that a cure for cancer could be around the corner. Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Initiative aims to find a cure for cancer and provide patients with more treatment options using AI technology to process and sort data from cancer researchers. In an attempt to reach its mission of driving 10 years’ worth of research in only five, AI is also being used to detect certain cancers earlier than what’s possible using other currently available diagnostic procedures.
The ability to diagnose certain cancers, including brain cancer, skin cancer and mesothelioma, through the use of this technology is, arguably, one of the most important advancements in healthcare as a result of AI. This is especially groundbreaking for patients battling mesothelioma, a rare cancer that develops in the mesotheliumof the lungs, heart or abdomen. Mesothelioma has a decades-long latency period and symptoms are often mistaken for those associated with more common ailments. Unfortunately, the disease has an average prognosis of 6-12 months and leaves patients with little time to coordinate treatment. Ultimately, the earlier detection and diagnosis of cancers may lead to better prognoses and outcomes.s
Using AI, the cloud and other tools, companies like IBM and Microsoft are attempting to change the way healthcare is approached. Following its creation in 2013, IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, successfully won $1 million in a game of Jeopardy!against two of the show’s most successful contestants, and is making attempts to streamline the process of diagnosing diseases in patients more efficiently.
Although IBM Watson hasn’t made as much progress as anticipated, the technology was proven capable during a 2017 study. The research monitored the amount of time it took Watson to create a treatment plan versus the amount of time it took doctors. The results showed that Watson was able to create a plan of treatment for a brain cancer patient in 10 minutes, while the process took between 160 hours for doctors.
However, the study wasn’t a complete win for Watson. Comparatively, Watson’s suggested plan of action was short sighted due to an inefficiency to consider multiple treatment options. While doctors were able to consider several possibilities at once, Watson could not.
Healthcare NExT, Microsoft’s internal initiative announced in 2017, is also focusing on using technology to find solutions to questions in the healthcare industry, including a cure for cancer.
In a Microsoft blog post about Healthcare NExT, Peter Lee, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft AI + Research says, Microsoft is “expanding [its] commitment to building a healthier future with new initiatives and solutions, making it easier for health industry partners and organizations to use intelligent technology to improve the lives of people around the world.”
Technology has changed dramatically within the past decade. Newly-developed diagnostic methods and an advanced approach to healthcare that we could have only dreamed of in the past are changing the way we see the world today. Although machines are still learning and there is a lot of room to improve, the work that’s been done in such a short period of time is nothing short of incredible.
Are we closer to a cure for cancer than even we know?