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Artificial Intelligence In Gene Sequencing: Illumina, IBM Team Up To Analyze Genes, Help Cancer Research

Update Date: Jan 10, 2017 10:00 AM EST

Gene-sequencing company Illumina has announced its partnership with IBM Watson Health. This will enable the collaboration of the two companies to put Watson's artificial intelligence to work in analyzing Illumina's solid tumor sequencing panel.

By adding IBM's Watson Health into Illumina's next-generation sequencing platform, BaseSpace Sequence Hub, scientists will have quick access to information and help standardize analysis of genes, contributing to cancer research.

How Does It Work?

For instance, a doctor will take a sample of a patient's tumor and will be sequenced by Illumina's TruSight Tumor 170 panel. A total of 170 different tumor mutations will be screened. IBM's Watson will analyze these mutations and give back a report to the cancer doctor, providing information on the mutations the test found.

With the partnership, the researchers who use the cancer sequencing panel will have a rapid access to information to help interpret data produced by the solid tumor profiling panel. Thus, within just minutes, Watson will be able to read the genetic alteration files, collate professional guidelines, medical literature and other sources of knowledge to provide information for each genomic alteration. It will then produce a report that can be used by researchers. In fact, Watson can ingest data from about 10,000 scientific articles and 100 new clinical trials each month.

"To enable precision cancer medicine on a large scale, we need new tools to overcome the data barriers of genomic research," Francis deSouza, President and CEO of Illumina, said in a press release by IBM.

"With a comprehensive assay of Illumina and the power of Watson, we hope to deliver a rapid turnaround of the genomic alteration results," he added.

The Importance Of Gene Sequencing

Over the past years, gene sequencing has increased after studies have shown the promise of precision medicine. The partnership could create an easier way to study genes and how they are linked to various tumor mutations happening in cancer patients.

"This partnership lays the groundwork for a more systematic study of the impact of genomics in oncology," Deborah DiSanzo, general manager, IBM Watson Health, said.

"Together we are poised to help researchers realize the potential of precision oncology by expanding access to valuable genome sequencing from Illumina and reliable, standardized genomic interpretation from Watson," she added.

About 2 million people in the United States could benefit from having their tumor DNA sequences. The goal of the partnership is to make it easier for hospitals to perform DNA sequencing.

"Illumina's ability to bundle the Watson report along with the TruSeq 170 enables a cancer institute or a diagnostic lab to get up and running much quicker," Steve Harvey, vice president of Watson Health, told Forbes.

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