Watson to help kids battling rare diseases

From the mHealthNews archive
By Eric Wicklund

Watson is being called in to help fight rare pediatric diseases.

IBM's cognitive learning platform will be integrated into Boston Children's Hospital to help researchers at the Manton Center for Orphan Disease Research in their study of steroid-resistant neophrotic syndrome (SRNS), a rare genetic form of kidney disease. Watson will first scour all available literature and related information on SRNS, then be used to process genomic data from patients at Boston Children's to help researchers identify and develop treatment options for the disease.

The partnership was announced this week at Boston Children's Hospital's Global Pediatric Innovation Summit in Boston and at the HIMSS Connected Health Conference outside Washington D.C., where IBM Chief Science Officer and Vice President of Innovations Shahram Ebadollahi was giving a keynote. 

[Learn more about the 2015 mHealth Summit.]

Officials said the project will eventually expand from kidney disease to other rare pediatric diseases – of which there are some 7,000 identified. One in 10 Americans suffers from a rare disease, according to the Global Genes Project, and half of them are children.

Watson will help clinicians analyze a child's genome sequencing data and more quickly identify anomalies that might cause these rare diseases.

At the Connected Health Conference, Ebadollahi said IBM's Watson Health division (located near Boston) "stands at a historic moment" in healthcare, offering access to and analysis of unstructured data that will help providers and researchers better understand and treat diseases and chronic conditions.

Unstructured data, coming in from a growing array of mobile devices and platforms, "is overwhelming every type of industry you can imagine," he said. Clinicians "lack the tools and time" to gather and analyze that data, so Watson is an invaluable tool, both in research and decision support.

"We are taking the risk of making decisions with incomplete information," he added. "We are paying a price of not knowing."

All told, Watson is being used in more than 16 health systems around the world to assess and act on unstructured data related to cancer, Ebadollahi said. At Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, for instance, it's being used to process information on oncology patients, raising the accuracy rate in diagnosing melanoma from 75 percent to better than 90 percent.

"One of Watson's talents is quickly finding hidden insights and connecting patterns in massive volumes of data," Deborah DiSanzo, general manager of IBM Watson Health, said in a press release. "Rare disease diagnosis is a fitting application for cognitive technology that can assimilate different types and sources of data to help doctors solve medical mysteries. For the kids and their families suffering without a diagnosis, our goal is to team with the world's leading experts to create a cognitive tool that will make it easier for doctors to find the needle in the haystack, uncovering all relevant medical advances to support effective care for the child."