You may not know who Dr. Lukas Wartman is, but his story is one that proves cancer research can save lives, even after traditional treatment fails.
In 2003, while attending med school, Lukas was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a cancer of the blood that is often fatal to adults. He took the traditional route of going through chemotherapy, which initially put him in remission.
After experiencing his second relapse in 2011, his outlook was bleak. Fortunately, as the Assistant Director of Cancer Genomics at Washington University in St. Louis, he had just the right friends in just the right place.
His colleagues decided to sequence his entire leukemia genome and analyze his ribonucleic acid (RNA), which like DNA is involved in the expression of genes.
By doing this, they uncovered a gene in his body that was over-exaggerated, triggering the relapse. They found a drug that they predicted would block the activity of the gene, even though it hadn’t been used for his type of leukemia before.
Bottom line, it worked!
Oncologists once believed that various forms of cancer were directly associated with specific body parts and organs where they appeared. Due to genome sequencing, the field now understands cancer is caused by gene mutations that present themselves differently in different people.
Thanks to advances in gene sequencing and analytics, customized diagnosis and treatments are now available. There is still one limiting factor, though: the time associated with combing through massive amounts of genetic data, and spotting the patterns that matter.
We all can’t be as lucky as Dr. Wartman and have our friends perform this highly complex task, but IBM (NYSE: IBM) just stepped up to its plate with their Jeopardy-crushing super computer, “Watson.”
Watson’s artificial intelligence system will compare patient’s genetic data with databases of cancer genes. It will also look at every scientific paper published about cancer genetics. What would traditionally take a team of experts days to accomplish, will now be done in minutes.
IBM is partnering with 14 big-name cancer centers, including the Genome Institute at Washington University where Dr. Wartman is based.
The company has also partnered with Medtronic (NYSE: MDT), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) on health projects, and has launched a 2,000-man business unit to help Watson revolutionize health care.
The med and tech industries still need to properly study Watson before it’s adopted as the new standard for curing cancer, but we’re definitely seeing a step in the right direction… and with so many publicly-traded companies backing it, I’m excited to see what profits I can find for my BioTech Intel Trader readers.
Editor, BioTech Intel Trader