Mayo Clinic and IBM task “Watson” to improve clinical trial research

Sept. 10, 2014

Mayo Clinic and IBM have announced plans to pilot Watson, the IBM cognitive computer, to match patients more quickly with appropriate clinical trials, beginning with research studies in cancer. A proof-of-concept phase is underway.

“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,” says Steven Alberts, MD, chair of medical oncology at Mayo Clinic.

Clinical trials provide patients with access to new and emerging treatments, yet enrolling participants in trials is one of the more difficult parts of clinical research. Currently it is done manually, with clinical coordinators sorting through patient records and conditions, trying to match them with the requirements of a given study protocol. At any given time, Mayo Clinic is conducting more than 8,000 human studies in addition to the 170,000 that are ongoing worldwide. Watson’s cognitive computing ability will help sift through available Mayo clinical trials and ensure that more patients are accurately and consistently matched with promising clinical trial options.

This version of Watson will be especially designed for Mayo Clinic. As it progresses in its tasks and matures through this collaboration, it will learn more about the clinical trials matching process, becoming more efficient. Watson also may help locate patients for hard-to-fill trials, such as those involving rare diseases. Enrollment in general could be increased by the Watson project.

To ensure Watson has the required expertise to assist with clinical trial matching, Mayo experts are working with IBM to expand Watson’s corpus of knowledge to include all clinical trials at Mayo Clinic and in public databases. The new Watson system is being trained to analyze patient records and clinical trial criteria in order to determine appropriate matches for patients. Visit the U.S National Institutes of Health’s database of clinical trials.

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