Augusta doctors use artificial intelligence to treat cancer patients around the world

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Doctors at the Medical College of Georgia are using artificial intelligence to treat cancer patients. The technology is saving lives around the world and right here at home.

Mary Catherine Hydrick grew up in Columbia County. She graduated from Evans High School in 2013 before she went to GCSU where she received a degree in Early Childhood Education. After college, she came back home to teach third grade at Parkway Elementary.

“I loved my job. I was really sad when I had to give it up,” says Mary Catherine.

In the winter of 2018, she got really sick. At first, she thought the sickness was simply a product of being a first year teacher. She figured her immune system was not yet strong enough for classroom life. She went to the doctor, he took her blood and life as she new it came to a grinding halt.

“I’ll never forget when he walked into the room. His face was white. He said, ‘something is wrong with your white count. You need to go to the hospital,'” Mary Catherine recalls.

At just 23 years old, she was diagnosed with leukemia.

“Of course I was fearful of my own mortality,” Mary Catherine says. “As time went on I was ‘why me?’ [I was] mad watching my friends continue to work, continue to go to school, get engaged, get married, those kinds of things that I thought would always happen for me. It’s still I think unfair what happened to me, but I’m alive so how can I be mad?” She asks rhetorically.

Mary Catherine is a patient at the Medical College of Georgia where pathologist Dr. Ravindra Kohle personalizes cancer treatment using artificial intelligence.

“Wee know that in a lot of these patients, especially the aggressive cancer types, what we are traditionally doing is not working,” Dr. Kolhe explains. “This is the place where something like a comprehensive genomic test can make a substantial difference in the outcome of these patients.”

His lab uses IMB Watson for Genomics to analyze genes associated with cancer in a way human scientists never could.

“It’s relatively impossible to compare because if you have to do it manually, 5-7 people in the lab would take probably more than a week to do the analysis and Watson for Genomics, it helps us to do maybe in 20 minutes,” Dr. Kolhe says.

This novel technology helps doctors uncover what is causing the cancer, what is allowing it to resist the normal treatment, and find out what they can change to fight it.

“We had a case from India. It was a very young, 36-year-old breast cancer patient who had metastatic breast cancer. We identified what’s making the cancer resistant to the existing therapy and then we changed the plan based on what the test showed,” Dr. Kolhe describes. “There are multiple examples, which are making a difference in these aggressive types of cancers.”

For Mary Catherine, artificial intelligence gave her options for a future.

You can’t really always know what the inside of your body needs so it’s cool that a machine can do that for you. They found the FLT3 mutation on my gene and they found the IDH mutation on my gene. The IDH medication that I’m on was approved by the FDA in July of 2018…without it, I would not be in remission so without A.I. I wouldn’t be alive.”

Dr. Kolhe currently uses a panel of 170 genes linked to cancer. Soon they plan to expand the panel to 570 genes.

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