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A revolutionary war against cancer

Annual Report - Annual Report - Winter 2014

By Hilary Graham

Imagine if oncologists around the world had access to the expertise of MD Anderson’s physicians. The standard of cancer care would be greatly improved, and lives would be saved.

To achieve this, the institution’s vast supply of knowledge would have to be combined, processed and better organized to make it more shareable. New technologies can help turn this into a reality.

Lynda Chin, M.D., chair of Genomic Medicine, envisions a health care system armed with cutting-edge technology, one that makes use of our increasingly connected world to improve patient outcomes at a faster pace.

In the face of rising cancer rates, an aging demographic, escalating health care costs and a growing shortage of physicians and sub-specialists, the challenges in cancer care are larger than ever. Chin believes a leapfrog approach is necessary to lead the way in overcoming such challenges.

“We need to harness advances in technologies and develop innovative solutions that will address these issues,” she says. ”In particular, we imagine that we can use the connectivity of today’s society to transform the health care model from one that focuses on providers to a more effective one that focuses on patients.”

With this aim, Chin launched the “N-of-All” program, a department initiative to collect and aggregate genomic research and clinical data from all patients in an effort to bridge the gap between the laboratory bench and the patient’s bedside. As part of this, the APOLLO (Adaptive Patient-Oriented Longitudinal Learning and Optimization) platform was established. It serves as a cohesive system with standardized procedures for gathering information, integrating data from research and patient care, as well as sharing knowledge. It can organize data to ensure that the information it provides — medical and clinical data and genomic profiles — is relevant to each patient and collected in a way that allows for analyses to generate new ideas that improve survival rates and quality of life for patients.

A pilot project is underway in collaboration with MD Anderson’s Leukemia department — the largest practice of its kind in the country. Since its launch on Oct. 1, 2013, the project, led by Hagop Kantarjian, M.D., chair of Leukemia, has collected clinical data from more than 1,300 newly diagnosed leukemia patients, surpassing the original goal of 1,000. Also, it has gathered more than 3,000 patient samples using standardized procedures and clinical information over time, including transcripts of physician reports.

All of this information can be examined by advanced analytics such as 
MD Anderson’s Oncology Expert Advisor™ (OEA), powered by IBM Watson. The OEA mines new discoveries and insights to help locate treatments showing the most promise for each patient and improve outcomes. Watson is the IBM third-generation cognitive computing system that gained fame for winning television quiz show “Jeopardy!” in 2011.

Using Watson’s ability to understand “natural language,” the OEA is trained by 
MD Anderson experts as a clinical decision support tool that ingests, analyzes and organizes complex patient data to recommend appropriate evidence-based therapies for each patient.

Chin and her colleagues hope the OEA will one day make MD Anderson’s high level of cancer knowledge and expertise available to doctors around the world, transforming patient care and diminishing the disease’s devastating impact on humanity.

For a more complete picture of the Oncology Expert Advisor, see The oncology expert and What OEA can do tomorrow.

N-of-All program

  • Democratization of care
  • Patient-oriented research
  • Conversion of knowledge into a new standard of care
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