Why I love working in IT, and for IBM

I was recently looking at some of the research projects that IBM has been investing in, and came across an article describing some work we’ve been doing on improving proton radiation therapy. This is a cutting-edge radiotherapy treatment; it can be a more effective form of therapy than standard X-ray radiotherapy because it directs the radiation treatment to precisely where it is needed with minimal damage to surrounding tissue – which is what has caused all my problems with lack of healing in my pelvis.

At the current time there are very few places offering this treatment. There are about 10 in the USA, and a few in Europe. There are none in the UK – the NHS sends what few patients can justify this treatment abroad to Switzerland and the USA. That’s at least partly because the systems are very expensive to install, and then can’t be heavily used (which would justify the high build cost) because each case requires a long and complex planning phase to ensure that the beam of protons only goes exactly where it should.

What our researchers are doing is automating a lot of the difficult manual work involved in planning the treatments, reducing the planning time for each treatment from several days to a few minutes. Ultimately this will probably result in a (very small) clinical improvement in the effectiveness of the treatment for each patient, but by making it possible to use the machine much more effectively it will enable their wider adoption, helping to bring this new radiotherapy treatment to a much larger number of patients.