How IBM's Watson is making Boston kids healthier

Wed, 2015-11-18 06:00 -- Doug Peeples

The Council's motto is "livability, workability and sustainability." Better health is a key part of better livability. Cities can contribute to better health in a lot of ways, including environmental improvements that make air and water safer.

You can also impact your city's "health quotient" by encouraging your city's health care providers to take advantage of smart technologies. Here's an example below from Boston. IBM's groundbreaking Watson technology will be studying rare children's diseases to increase diagnostic accuracy. Don't your kids deserve the same level of care? -- Jesse Berst

In addition to the ailments and diseases most of us are familiar with, there are more than 7,000 known rare disorders – from mild abnormalities to potentially deadly diseases. And roughly one in 10 Americans has such a disease. Half of them are said to be children.

To help medical professionals learn more about those rare diseases, IBM’s Watson will collaborate with Boston Children’s Hospital in a project intended to find options for diagnosis and treatment . The first project for Watson will concentrate on kidney disease.

Incidentally, Watson is no stranger to the health care industry. Council Lead Partner IBM and Watson worked with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center last year on cancer treatment options and have done so in other cancer centers throughout the world. Also, IBM offers several health care industry solutions ranging from regulatory issues in research to patient care.

While medical investigators at the hospital’s Manton Center for Orphan Disease Research have made considerable progress in diagnoses for children with rare genetic diseases, it’s time-consuming and sometimes very difficult to make sense of the results. That’s where Watson comes in.

Watson’s role
To prepare for the project Watson will read up on nephrology, specifically medical information and pulling together information specifically on a rare form of genetic kidney disease, steroid-resistant nephritic syndrome (SRNS). Genomic sequencing data from previous patients also will be fed into Watson. The plan is to develop a system that will help clinicians identify what could be causing otherwise unexplained symptoms.

“Coping with undiagnosed illness is a tremendous challenge for many of the children and families we see, Watson can help us ensure we’ve left no stone unturned in our search to diagnose and cure these rare diseases so we can uncover all relevant insights from the patient’s clinical history,” said Christopher Walsh, director of the Division of Genetics and Genomics at Boston Children’s.

Watson’s role won’t be limited to diagnostics; it will include treatment options as well. “One of Watson’s talents is quickly finding hidden insights and connecting patterns in massive volumes of data,” said Deborah DiSanzo, general manager for IBM Watson Health. “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.”

Related articles:
IBM expands health care portfolio to drive faster advances and improve care
How smart technology is improving public health

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.