IBM Watson and rare diseases

By April 4, 2016technology

When we hear about AI we often feel concerned. We imagine technological unemployment or robots taking over the world. We rarely think of the huge leap forward in terms of health. There’s one system in particular that is revolutionizing the way we deal with rare diseases and it’s called Watson. We visited the world leading IBM research center in Zurich and met Vice President for Europe and Director of IBM Research – Zurich Alessandro Curioni to learn about Watson’s new frontiers. Rhön-Klinikum is pioneering the system in Germany and is ready to partner with other institutions around the world. Your closest hospital could be the next one!

CRISTINA: We’re in Zurich in one of the most successful research centres in the world, and it’s directed by an Italian. A place full of history home to four scientists awarded two Nobel prizes two years in a row. Currently 400 researchers of 45 different nationalities work here. Today we’ll tell you about Watson, an AI able to solve an infinity of problems. In particular, we’ll explore how it can help identify rare diseases.

ALESSANDRO CURIONI: There are more than 7000 rare diseases affecting around 30 million people in Europe. The main issue is that knowledge is fairly limited because doctors rarely come across these diseases. Watson helps doctors to get to a diagnosis much faster. It extracts knowledge from scientific literature, patients and medical handbooks, it integrates it and then presents it to doctors very accurately. It doesn’t substitute doctors but helps them do their job better.

CRISTINA: Watson elaborates and cross-checks all the data we see in this chart. Patient data seems to be the smallest portion.

ALESSANDRO CURIONI: Actually every single patient gets to the diagnosis having accumulated a pile of material that weights more than 5 kg. So obtaining a diagnosis as quickly as possible, avoiding consultations with hundreds of doctors, is paramount.

CRISTINA: Can we see how it works?

ALESSANDRO CURIONI: Here we have a graphic that integrates all this data.

CRISTINA: We have asthma, wheezing, cough, emphysema, pulmonary hypertension, fever and respiratory insufficiency.

ALESSANDRO CURIONI: The system researches among the huge amount of data and offers a number of possible diagnosis with an associated probability. In this case: Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis, Chronic obstruction pulmonary diseases, Fabry disease. The doctor can take this outcome to give a final diagnosis and begin the cure without further ado.

CRISTINA: Thank you and thanks to Watson for elaborating all this data which a brain alone couldn’t do, while also shortening the time between diagnosis and cure of rare diseases.