Answer: Who is ‘Watson?’

When one thinks of cancer research, one may think of the traditional test tubes, beakers and microscopes and how what is being examined translates into new treatments for patients.  While traditional science is a large part of that dynamic, computer technology is an equal partner, allowing researchers to explore the nuances of the disease in a faster, comprehensive, more precise fashion. 

Under the direction of David J. Foran, PhD, members of his laboratory and the Center for Biomedical Imaging at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey are spearheading the development of special computational applications that can examine and characterize patterns within cancer malignancies.  By capturing and cataloguing such massive data, scientists can further understand what role protein and molecule development plays in disease onset and progression.

Dr. Foran’s team was awarded $3.7 million in grant funding to support this cutting-edge work, the majority of which comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Included in that is $1.7 million to advance the team’s work in expanding a family of data-mining, imaging and computational tools to further characterize hematologic malignancies. It also supports the development of a computer support system with a large processing capacity in order to perform quick, reliable comparative analysis and classification of various tissue patterns. 

By expanding the current suite of tools, Foran’s team will be able to systematically investigate computational markers in a wider range of tissues, cancer types and biomarkers for symptoms of disease, which are used for prognosis and applied toward clinical outcome. 

Related to this project, Foran’s team also received funding from the NIH to integrate pathology imaging data standards that have been developed by Foran’s lab and investigators at Emory University with an existing radiology imaging data standard being developed at Stanford and Northwestern University.  The resulting effort is designed to support large-scale, multi-site collaborative clinical and research studies involving large cancer data sets.

And perhaps now considered an honorary member of Foran’s team is Watson -- the IBM computer system which earlier this year beat some of the best and brightest human minds on the game show Jeopardy!. Foran was one of six scientists worldwide to receive a portion ($75,000) of Watson’s winnings to support the team’s work involving IBM’s World Community Grid effort.  World Community Grid is a virtual supercomputer that taps into unused -- or idle -- computer power of nearly two-million personal computers in more than 80 countries. This computational power is then made available to scientists who require high speed computing for their research. Foran is applying this power to IBM’s Help Defeat Cancer project. 

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