Watson Takes on Hematology

March 08, 2017

Munich Leukemia Laboratory (MLL), a state-of-the-art leukemia and lymphoma diagnostic and research laboratory based in Munich, has teamed up with IBM and Illumina to help build a new cognitive technology prototype that aims to help researchers improve leukemia treatment.

The prevalence of leukemia is on the rise in Europe, with 15,000 new diagnoses each year in Germany alone.(1) MLL will use NovaSeq technology from Illumina, the global leader in next-generation sequencing technology, to sequence samples from its biobank of more than 500,000 cases. MLL researchers then plan to use Watson to help analyze the genomic data alongside other data sources. The project intends to include innovative testing processes such as automated phenotyping and genotyping including whole genome sequencing (WGS) and transcriptome sequencing (RNASeq) in 5,000 cases.

The ultimate goal is to develop a Watson-based technology prototype that can help analyze genomic and phenotypic data alongside medical literature, guidelines and study results, providing clinicians with information relevant to leukemia care. Following successful development, the tool could also be made available to other laboratories in the future.

Prof. Torsten Haferlach, co-founder and CEO of MLL, states, “We at MLL are excited to combine our data and knowledge, IBM’s cognitive computing tools, and Illumina’s new sequencing platform to create a new era of insights in leukemia biology that will also drive more personalized treatment strategies.”

“As a company committed to improving human health, we are delighted to welcome MLL as our first European customer to adopt the NovaSeq platform,” said Paula Dowdy, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Illumina, Europe, Middle East, and Africa. “MLL’s strategic decision to create a future path for whole-genome sequencing to help promote better health outcomes, reflects one of Illumina’s key strategies to connect genomics to the everyday lives of those living with cancer.”

MLL will utilize Illumina’s BaseSpace Informatics Suite to be able to streamline data analysis, storage, data curation and aggregation. The BaseSpace Sequence Hub Frankfurt site will help MLL manage the data as the project scales and facilitates data transfer to IBM Watson. Additional tertiary analysis with BaseSpace Cohort Analyzer and BaseSpace Correlation Engine allows MLL’s genomic data to be combined with other clinical data to enhance interpretation results.

“Cognitive computing is critical to help providers unlock the insights hidden in large data pools and scale their expertise in a global market through digital services," said Bart de Witte, director of digital health, IBM. “This research collaboration is indicative of the growing global market to create and implement new cognitive approaches to data-driven challenges for health systems that are increasingly overwhelmed by data.”

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