IBM's Watson Supercomputer Bears Arms to Battle Cancer

IBM announced two new applications for its Watson supercomputer that are aimed at fighting 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."