Microsoft wants to ‘solve’ cancer in the next 10 years using AI

Researchers are using algorithms and machine learning to tackle the disease

Microsoft is working towards fighting cancer using computer science such as machine learning and algorithms.

By treating cancer like an information processing system, Microsoft researchers are able to adapt tools typically used to model computational processes to model biological ones.

Ultimately, the company hopes to create molecular computers to program the body to fight cancer cells immediately after detection.

“We are trying to change the way research is done on a daily basis in biology,” said Jasmin Fisher, a senior researcher who works in the programming principles and tools group in the Microsoft’s research lab in Cambridge.

This is combined with a data-driven approach; putting machine learning at the core of Microsoft’s attempts to try to tackle the disease. The company wants to take the biological data that is available and use analysis tools to better understand and treat the disease.

“I think it’s a very natural thing for Microsoft to be looking at because we have tremendous expertise in computer science and what is going on in cancer is a computational problem,” Chris Bishop, director of the Cambridge-based lab, told WIRED.

“It’s not just an analogy, it’s a deep mathematical insight. Biology and computing are disciplines which seem like chalk and cheese but which have very deep connections on the most fundamental level.”

For instance, machine learning and natural language processing are being used to provide a way to sort through the research data available, which can then be given to oncologists to create the most effect and individualized cancer treatment for patients.

At the moment, there is so much data available, it is impossible for a person to go through and understand it all. Machine learning can process the information much faster than humans and make it easier to understand.

Machine learning is also being paired with computer vision to give radiologists a more detailed understanding of how a patient’s tumor is progressing. Researchers are working on a system that could eventually evaluate 3D scans by analyzing pixels to tell the radiologist exactly how much a tumor has grown, shrunk or changed shape since the last scan.

Andrew Phillips, head of the biological computation research group at the Cambridge Lab said researchers benefit from Microsoft’s history as a software innovator.

“We can use methods that we’ve developed for programming computers to program biology, and then unlock even more applications and even better treatments,” he said.

Phillips is working to create a molecular computer that could be put inside a cell to monitor for disease. If the sensor detected a disease, such as cancer, it would activate a response to fight it.

Research such as this would also use traditional computing and re-purpose it into medical or biotechnology applications, so the body could be programmed to fight a disease, in the way we program a computer to do something.

Though the research is still in the early stages, Phillips told The Telegraph it could be technically possible to put in a smart molecular system to fight a disease in this way, in “five to 10 years time”.

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