IBM's Watson Supercomputer Bears Arms to Battle Cancer

 
 
By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2013-02-08
 
 
 

IBM's Watson Supercomputer Bears Arms to Battle Cancer


IBM's Watson supercomputer celebrated the second anniversary of its trouncing human competitors on "Jeopardy" with the announcement of two new medical applications aimed at helping battle cancer.

In the past year, IBM has partnered separately with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) and WellPoint to develop Watson health care products starting in the areas of oncology and utilization management. Now IBM, MSK and WellPoint have announced the latest advancements based on their collaboration, including unveiling the first commercially developed Watson-based cognitive computing breakthroughs. These innovations stand to help transform the quality and speed of care delivered to patients through individualized, evidence-based medicine.

"Today, I join IBM, our partner WellPoint and many other health care leaders in New York City to mark a milestone on the path to bringing the power of Watson to oncology care," Dr. Mark Kris, chief of Thoracic Oncology Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, wrote in a blog post. "In collaboration with IBM and WellPoint, we will unveil the first commercially developed Watson-based cognitive computing system that is being taught by Memorial Sloan-Kettering experts. We believe these innovations will help transform the quality and speed of care for patients and enhance research to lead to more cures."

"IBM's work with WellPoint and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center represents a landmark collaboration in how technology and evidence-based medicine can transform the way in which health care is practiced," Manoj Saxena, IBM's general manager for Watson solutions, said in a statement. "These breakthrough capabilities bring forward the first in a series of Watson-based technologies, which exemplifies the value of applying big data and analytics and cognitive computing to tackle the industry's most pressing challenges."

Watson voraciously digests information for later use when called upon by users. MSK fed Watson gobs of data on the complexities of cancer and the explosion of genetic research that has set the stage for the computing system to assist doctors and nurses in changing care practices for many cancer patients with highly specialized treatments based on their personal genetic tumor type. At the same time, WellPoint has been applying Watson to a utilization management pilot program with participation from provider offices to streamline the review processes between a patients' physician and their health plan, potentially speeding approvals from utilization management professionals, reducing waste and helping ensure evidence-based care is provided.

To date, Watson has ingested more than 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, 2 million pages of text from 42 medical journals and clinical trials in the area of oncology research. Watson has the power to sift through 1.5 million patient records representing decades of cancer treatment history, such as medical records and patient outcomes, and provide to physicians evidence-based treatment options all in a matter of seconds.

"The commercialization of IBM Watson is a historic milestone that will impact the entire health care industry, said Daniel Kraft, M.D., executive director of FutureMed. "Physicians are faced with ever-increasing amounts of medical data and increased demands to improve outcomes. IBM is delivering on a vision to apply technology and innovation to health care by creating solutions that will transform our ability to improve diagnosis and treatment and to enhance quality of care for our patients."

The first commercially developed Watson-based cognitive computing solutions are:

  • Interactive Care Insights for Oncology is a first-of-its-kind Watson-based private cloud that is expected to assist medical professionals and researchers by helping identify individualized treatment options for patients with cancer, starting with lung cancer. The Maine Center for Cancer Medicine (MCCM) and WESTMED Medical Group are the first two early adopters of the capability. Their oncologists will begin testing the product and providing feedback to WellPoint, IBM and Memorial Sloan-Kettering to improve usability. 
  • Interactive Care Guide and Interactive Care Reviewer is the first Watson-based cognitive system that is expected to accelerate accepted testing and treatment by shortening pre-authorization approval time. This means that patients are moving forward with the first crucial step toward treatment more quickly.

Dr. Kris emphasized the potential for Watson to help personalize cancer treatments.

"Over the past year, we at Memorial Sloan-Kettering have worked with an IBM team to train Watson to help assist medical professionals in choosing treatments for lung and breast cancers," Kris said. "We are sharing our knowledge and expertise in oncology to help Watson learn everything it can about cancer care and how Memorial Sloan-Kettering's experts use medical information and their experience in personalized cancer treatments."

IBM's Watson Supercomputer Bears Arms to Battle Cancer


Kris said he prefers to use the word cancers, plural, when discussing cancer because the disease varies so much in the way it attacks individuals. "Doctors treating these illnesses know how different they are from person to person," he said. "We need better ways to help us understand the complexity and variation of these diseases to improve care and research."

He added that doctors need better guidelines on how to match treatments to patients, such as which chemotherapy options and which dosage and frequency to use for each individual.

"Oncologists learn ways to make these choices from their experience treating individual patients," Kris said. "That kind of wisdom is what the Memorial Sloan-Kettering team is adding to IBM Watson. Our hope is to share our experience and knowledge, and, enabled by Watson technology, help physicians around the world to understand and mine the subtleties of each person's illness. We believe this strategy can take us one step closer to the goal of personalized care for every person facing cancer treatment."

Memorial Sloan-Kettering has immersed Watson in the complexities of cancer and the explosion of genetic research that has set the stage for changing care practices for many cancer patients with highly specialized treatments based on their personal genetic tumor type.

"It can take years for the latest developments in oncology to reach all practice settings," said Craig B. Thompson, M.D., president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in a statement. "The combination of transformational technologies found in Watson with our cancer analytics and decision-making process has the potential to revolutionize the accessibility of information for the treatment of cancer in communities across the country and around the world. Ultimately, we expect this comprehensive, evidence-based approach will profoundly enhance cancer care by accelerating the dissemination of practice-changing research at an unprecedented pace."

The Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and WESTMED Medical Group are the first two early adopters of the capability. Their oncologists will begin testing the product and providing feedback to WellPoint, IBM and Memorial Sloan-Kettering to improve usability.

Meanwhile, in a WellPoint pilot project, Watson absorbed more than 25,000 test case scenarios and 1,500 real-life cases, and gained the ability to interpret the meaning and analyze queries in the context of complex medical data and human and natural language, including doctors notes, patient records, medical annotations and clinical feedback. In addition, more than 14,700 hours of hands-on training was spent by nurses who trained Watson. Watson continues to learn while on the job, much like a medical resident, while working with the WellPoint nurses who originally conducted its training.

Watson started processing common, medical procedure requests by providers for members in WellPoint-affiliated health plans in December, and was expanded to include five provider offices in the Midwest. Watson will serve as a tool to accelerate the review process between a patient's physician and their health plan.

"The health care industry must drive transformation through innovation, including harnessing the latest technology that will ultimately benefit the health care consumer," Lori Beer, WellPoint's executive vice president of Specialty Businesses and Information Technology, said in a statement. "We believe that WellPoint's data, knowledge and extensive provider network, combined with the IBM Watson technology and Memorial Sloan-Kettering's oncological expertise can drive this transformation."

"Delivering actionable advice at the point of medical decision making is the next frontier in analytics for health," said Scott Lundstrom, group vice president of IDC Health Insights. "Watson is an impressive and unique solution to this challenge, and I think we have just begun to scratch the surface of valuable and innovative improvements we can make by applying this technology to health care."

In the two years since it beat human opponents at "Jeopardy," Watson has gained a 240 percent improvement in system performance, reduced the system's physical requirements by 75 percent and can now be run on a single Power 750 server, IBM said.

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