IBM showcases Israeli breast cancer-detecting research

The company is developing a technology to help doctors and radiologists diagnose diseases in images.

October 19, 2015 17:15
2 minute read.
Breast cancer

Breast cancer (illustrative photo). (photo credit: INGIMAGE)


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ZURICH – IBM, one of the world’s biggest hi-tech companies, showcased cutting-edge research from its Haifa Research Lab as one of its top innovations of the year at an annual press event in Zurich last Thursday.

The company is developing a technology to help doctors and radiologists diagnose diseases in images.

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Radiologists who spend hours on end looking for hard-to-find aberrations on medical images can suffer from eye fatigue and lose productivity and accuracy over the course of the day. Imagine looking at Where’s Waldo posters for hours, in black and white, and having to determine whether Waldo is present at all.

IBM’s system combines natural language understanding and machine learning from their Watson program, best known as the computer that won Jeopardy! against the reigning champions in 2011, with imaging expertise.

“IBM asked itself how can we use this great technology we created and use it for something more important than a game on TV,” said Flora Gilboa-Solomon, the researcher who is leading the study in Haifa.

Because the specific imaging challenges associated with different diseases are so different, IBM has spread its research among its 12 international research labs.

Haifa’s focus is breast cancer, while facilities in California are researching the heart and in Australian ones on the eye.

Radiologists have an error rate of 10 percent to 30%, Gilboa-Solomon said.

The program can examine images from MRI, ultrasounds and mammograms, which require different diagnostic knowledge, and cross-reference the results against the patient’s information, published scientific research and the particular hospital’s own preferred treatment courses.

“It doesn’t get tired, it always sees the same thing, it has the same information on the patient,” Gilboa-Solomon said.

The program is meant to be a tool for doctors, who are required to certify that they agree or disagree with the results the program helps discover. Doctors, who may understandably be wary of overreliance on computers, can see the computer’s “reasoning” for various possible diagnoses. Watson theoretically improves over time as the doctors who use it fix its mistakes.

The research, presented to international journalists on Thursday at IBM’s lab in Zurich, was one item on a list of exciting research the company is carrying out.

Much of the new research focused on advancing computing and processing using new materials.

For example, by using more conductive, tiny copper connections, they can increase the amount of power that flows between stacked chips. They then flood the area between chips with a solution of material that can conduct the heat and spin the water out in a centrifuge, leaving the particles in place.

Similar work is being done on new ways to store electronic information.

Research in phase-change memory, for example, searches out materials that can physically change as a result of a charge, thus storing information. The varying states have different electronic properties that can then be read.

IBM is experimenting with oxygenated carbon as one possible alternative material for memory. It is also looking at how carbon nanotubes could replace the ubiquitous silicon currently used for processing.

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