Epic, Watson at work on interoperability

IBM Watson Health also collaborates with 14 cancer centers
By Bernie Monegain
10:54 AM
IBM Watson

IBM Watson Health is collaborating with Epic and Mayo Clinic to apply cognitive computing capabilities of Watson to EHRs, and also with 14 cancer institutions to reduce from weeks to minutes the ability to translate DNA insights.

Epic has more than 350 customers – some of the largest and most-recognized healthcare systems in the world, IBM pointed out in announcing the collaboration – "and they exchanged more than 80 million medical records in the last 12 months, both within and outside the Epic community," officials said. "Interoperability with Watson will enable these institutions to apply the cognitive capabilities of Watson to these records through secure, cloud-based Watson services, providing greater clinical insight to help personalize healthcare."

As IBM executives see it, together, Watson and Epic software could be used to develop patient treatment protocols, personalize patient management for chronic conditions, and intelligently assist doctors and nurses by providing relevant evidence from the worldwide body of medical knowledge, putting new insight into the hands of clinical staff. Providers will be able to share patient-specific data with Watson in real time, within workflows, allowing Watson to bring forth critical evidence from medical literature and case studies that are most relevant to the patient's care.

The medical community is one of the earliest adopters of Watson cognitive computing technology, where IBM has collaborated with leading hospitals and research institutes including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic to advance Watson’s healthcare capabilities and to help transform how medicine is taught, researched and practiced.

In a separate announcement on Tuesday, IBM said Watson Health is collaborating with 14 leading cancer institutes to accelerate the ability of clinicians to identify and personalize treatment options for their patients.

[See also: With 2 acquisitions, IBM builds out Watson Health.]

The cancer institutes working with IBM will apply Watson's advanced cognitive capabilities to reduce from weeks to minutes the ability to translate DNA insights, understand a person’s genetic profile and gather relevant information from medical literature to personalize treatment options, IBM executives said in announcing the collaborations. The project is part of IBM’s broader Watson Health initiative to advance patient-centered care and improve health.

The collaborations will enable clinicians to use Watson with a much broader set of patients by the end of 2015, and will accelerate the promise of personalized medicine for cancer patients everywhere.

Collaborating with IBM Watson Health are:

  • Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
  • BC Cancer Agency
  • City of Hope
  • Cleveland Clinic
  • Duke Cancer Institute
  • Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha, Neb
  • McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis,
  • New York Genome Center,
  • Sanford Health
  • University of Kansas Cancer Center
  • University of North Carolina Lineberger Cancer Center
  • University of Southern California Center for Applied Molecular Medicine
  • University of Washington Medical Center
  • and Yale Cancer Center

As participating institutions use Watson to assist clinicians in identifying cancer-causing mutations, Watson’s rationale and insights will continually improve, providing the latest combined wisdom of the world’s leading cancer institutes for oncologists.    

In a news release, IBM describes the state of cancer treatment today: "Most of the 1.6 million Americans who are diagnosed with cancer each year* receive surgery, chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Yet when these standard treatment fail and as genetic sequencing becomes increasingly accessible and affordable, some patients are beginning to benefit from treatments that target their specific cancer-causing genetic mutations. However, the process is time-consuming and requires clinicians to sift through and reconcile a deluge of genetic information – for example a single patient’s genome represents more than 100 gigabytes of data – in addition to health information such as electronic medical records, journal studies, and clinical trial information."

[See also: IBM goes big with two data projects.]

Watson can help clinicians quickly sift through this data and provide comprehensive insights on cancer-causing mutations and medical literature that is potentially relevant, IBM executives say.

"Determining the right drug combination for an advanced cancer patient is alarmingly difficult, requiring a complex analysis of different sources of big data that integrates rapidly emerging clinical trials information with personalized gene sequencing," said Norman Sharpless, MD, director at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, in a statement. "We are partnering with IBM in an effort to solve this decision problem with the help of cognitive technology and to improve the decisions we make with our patients to maximize their chance for cure."

In the initial phase of the program, participating organizations will apply Watson to the DNA data of patients who are battling all types of cancer, including lymphoma, melanoma, pancreatic, ovarian, brain, lung, breast and colorectal cancer.

"When you are dealing with cancer, it is always a race," said Lukas Wartman, MD, assistant director of cancer genomics at The McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, in a news release. "As a cancer patient myself, I know how important genomic information can be. Unfortunately, translating cancer-sequencing results into potential treatment options often takes weeks with a team of experts to study just one patient’s tumor and provide results to guide treatment decisions. Watson appears to help dramatically reduce that timeline."