Watson to Match Patients to Clinical Trials

IBM’s cognitive computer will be individualizing trial plans for cancer patients at the Mayo Clinic.

Sep 8, 2014
Bob Grant

WIKIMEDIA, CLOCKREADYIBM’s Watson is one busy machine. Already deployed to aid researchers and clinicians at several institutions, the “cognitive computer” is now helping oncologists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to sift through reams of patient records and sort individuals afflicted with cancer into appropriate clinical trials. “In an area like cancer, where time is of the essence, the speed and accuracy that Watson offers will allow us to develop an individualized treatment plan more efficiently so we can deliver exactly the care that the patient needs,” Steven Alberts, chair of medical oncology at Mayo Clinic, said in a statement.

Watson could ease the burden on clinical trial coordinators by matching thousands of patients, each with a unique health history and suite of symptoms, with thousands of experimental protocols that are designed to capture specific individuals. This should benefit not only patients, but the scientists who are running trials, said investigators at the Mayo Clinic. “With shorter times from initiation to completion of trials, our research teams will have the capacity for deeper, more complete investigations,” Nicholas LaRusso, a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and the project lead for the Mayo-IBM Watson collaboration, said in the statement. “Coupled with increased accuracy, we will be able to develop, refine and improve new and better techniques in medicine at a higher level.”

The computer, which will become more efficient at the task of enrolling patients by learning more about the clinical trials matching process as it goes, will get to work at Mayo in early 2015. Versions of Watson are already being used to perform similar duties at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the New York Genome Center, and Baylor College of Medicine.