IBM is teaming up with the New York Genome Center to help fight brain cancer.

The company said on Wednesday that its Watson cloud computing system will be used in partnership with a New York-based genetic research center mainly to help sequence DNA for the treatment of glioblastoma, the most common type of brain cancer in U.S. adults.

New York Genome Center, a consortium of academic, medical and industry officials, will use Watson to sequence the DNA of cancer tumours at a much faster rate than would be possible if done by a human being. The DNA information would then be combined with clinical information and fed to Watson to help determine the best way to treat a particular patient.

What makes Watson unique is that it isn’t programmed like most computers. Instead of relying on the information that’s put into it, Watson learns by “reading” vast amounts of information and combining it with the results of previous work to find answers to problems. Those characteristics make Watson ideal for extremely data-heavy work in fields such as health care and finance.

Dr. Robert Darnell, New York Genome’s president, CEO and scientific director, says that to completely analyse one person’s brain tumour, doctors would have to sequence 800 billion base pairs of DNA, adding that it took him a year to sequence 140 pairs by himself.

In comparison, Watson can sequence 75 million base pairs in one second.

The doctors working on the project hope to start with 20 brain cancer patients, sequence their DNA and then run the information through Watson to figure out the best ways to treat them, Mr. Darnell says.

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