health data, Microsoft
“We can use methods that we’ve developed for programming computers to program biology, and then unlock even more applications and even better treatments,” added Andrew Phillips,Head, Biological Computation Group, Microsoft

Microsoft’s Cambridge-based researchers say thinking of cancer as an information processing system offers new ways of beating it

[Cambridge, UK] Microsoft has been showing off some of its advanced work in cancer research to the UK press this week.

The message is that algorithms and computers, not test tubes and beakers, could be the next battleground of research into cancer, say thinkers at Microsoft’s special R&D lab invited to speak to national press journalists.

The Independent claims Microsoft will “solve the problem of cancer” by using ground-breaking computer science to crack the code of diseased cells so they can be reprogrammed back to a healthy state – by 2026, if not earlier.

Computer science approaches such as machine learning, artificial vision systems and natural language processing are being used as possible ways to better crunch through cancer research data, for example.

“We are trying to change the way research is done on a daily basis in biology,” Jasmin Fisher, trained as a biologist herself but who is now in the facility’s programming principles and tools group.

More personalised treatment

The Cambridge team base their work around two main ideas, said its leader, Jeannette Wing.

One is that cancer and other biological processes are information processing systems, so tools that work in that area should work here, too.

The other is that techniques usually only used for data can now be used to better understand and treat the disease.

But it’s actually the crossover between computing and medical science where the most progress is likely, says the IT giant: “The collaboration between biologists and computer scientists is actually key to making this work,” Wing noted.

Genomics research is also making a big contribution, as it provides a highly useful resource for understanding cancer and so developing more personalised treatment.

“We can use methods that we’ve developed for programming computers to program biology, and then unlock even more applications and even better treatments,” added Andrew Phillips, who heads the company’s biological computation group.

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