The Cancer Moonshot Initiative, AI & Cancer Research

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Former Vice President Joe Biden lost his son to cancer on May 30, 2015. Beau Biden was 46 years old when he lost his nearly two-year battle with glioblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer. Following the death of his son, the 47th vice president of the United States announced he would not be running for president in the 2016 election and would instead create an initiative dedicated to ending cancer as we know it.

...Democrats and Republicans share this passion to silence this disease. And I said, "If I could do anything, I would want to have been the President that ended cancer as we know it, because I think it's possible." - Joe Biden, annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research on April 20, 2016

In the year following Beau's death, Cancer Moonshot 2020 was born. The initiative was created with the goal of making strides in cancer research and eventually eradicating the disease. With $1.8 billion in funding spread out over seven years, the initiative has already seen movement and hopes to fast-track cancer research. Alongside several other research mediums, including immunotherapy and telemedicine, the coalition is funding cancer researchers and scientists to use artificial intelligence.


Personalization of Treatment Through the Use of AI

What if we could get rid of cancer in its entirety? Researchers and scientists believe this is a possibility, but the timeline is uncertain.

Unfortunately, most people are affected by cancer in one way or another, whether directly or through family or friends. The emphasis of AI research in the world of healthcare has the potential to continually improve cancer diagnoses and drastically change prognoses for the better, ultimately giving us more time to spend with the people we love.

Some of the most impressive strides being made in cancer research and healthcare as a result of AI include the personalization of treatment and early diagnosis. Recently, Intel has begun researching ways to personalize treatment, which would ensure every patient with the same disease would be treated based on his or her specific genomic data rather than receiving cookie-cutter treatment.


Early Diagnosis, Better Prognosis

There may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel for the future of cancer diagnosis. AI has been used to detect several forms of cancer, and will be integral to completing the Cancer Moonshot's goal of achieving 10 years worth of research in five.

For rare cancers like glioblastoma, sarcomas, and mesothelioma, a cancer with only about 3,000 new cases each year, early detection could drastically improve prognoses. Though major breakthroughs have been made over the years related to these and other rare cancers, researchers hope to continue learning and advancing the technology.

AI, although designed and ultimately controlled by humans, is on the verge of being the best way to diagnose cancer. Fifteen of China's top doctors recently participated in a competition against AI to diagnose brain tumors and lost. The technology successfully diagnosed the tumors with more than 90% accuracy in 15 minutes. Meanwhile, the doctors achieved only 66% accuracy in 30 minutes.

_Former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Beau, following Beau's November 2006 victory in the election for Delaware Attorney General. (Wikimedia Commons/Office of U.S. Sen.Joe Biden)_

AI and Rare Cancers

Glioblastoma only affects about 200,000 people in the U.S. each year, which is why it came as a shock that Sen. John McCain was diagnosed with the same cancer as Beau Biden in late 2017. A longtime senator from Arizona and Barack Obama's opponent in the 2008 presidential election, McCain was shown an outpouring of support from fellow politicians and public figures.

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately one in eight cancers diagnosed are considered rare. This is alarming considering how difficult it is to diagnose these cancers early and the limited treatment options available compared to more common cancers. For these reasons, the impact of AI and machine learning for diagnosis is especially important for cancers like glioblastoma and mesothelioma. Although the cure isn't here yet, researchers are well on their way.

Cancer is arguably one of the largest health epidemics our world faces today. Fortunately, our best minds are continually working to improve the technology we have at our fingertips to not only help us in our daily lives, but to eventually prolong them.

Additional Resources

To learn more about AI and machine learning, check out these resources:

  1. The Leading Data Platform for AI and Analytics
  2. Demystifying AI, Machine Learning and Deep Learning
  3. Learn how the MapR Data Platform is being using in Healthcare

This blog post was published July 16, 2018.

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