Connected Health 2015: IBM, Boston Children's use cognitive computing to tackle pediatric diseases

IBM Watson and Boston Children's Hospital will join forces to better understand rare pediatric diseases thanks to the power of cognitive computing.

Using the Watson platform, the two organizations hope to help providers research diagnosis and treatment of such diseases, according to an announcement.

Cognitive computing is the future of technology and will have great implications for healthcare once the systems learn and understand in a way that will also allow them to continuously be updated, Shahram Ebadollahi (pictured), vice president of innovations and chief science officer at IBM Watson, said at the HIMSS Connected Health Conference in Maryland on Tuesday.

The IBM-Boston Children's pediatric disease project will first focus on kidney disease, with Watson analyzing scientific literature and clinical databases in the cloud to match diseases with genetic mutations. Boston Children's Hospital also announced Wednesday that it will work with digital health venture Rock Health to speed up creation of tools and devices for pediatric care.

Ebadollahi briefly touched on the Boston Children's partnership during his talk, as well as a slew of other joint initiatives IBM Watson has under way. Some examples of how cognitive computing is "working to solve some of the most pressing challenges in healthcare and life sciences," he said, include:

  • Medical imaging: This is the fastest area of data growth in the industry, he said. IBM is working on a system called Medical Sieve, which looks at the content of images to extract the minute details, such as anomalies.
  • Oncology: IBM is working with Memorial Sloane Kettering on an evidence-based treatment tool for oncologists to help them make better decisions. The organizations also are looking at melanoma and skin lesions and the use of mobile apps for better screening.
  • Electronic medical records: IBM and the Cleveland Clinic have also partnered to figure out how to summarize EMRs. "The physician used to go through hundreds of pages of clinical notes, of physician notes," he said. So a tool was created based on Watson called EMRA--Electronic Medical Record Advisor--which sifts through all the notes and extracts concepts from them.

"This a very interesting time for all of us, and we are really at the cusp of a new era of computing that has great, great implications for healthcare," he said. 

To learn more:
- here's the IBM announcement
- here's the Rock Health announcement

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