Imran Haque On The Implications of IBM Watson and Supercomputers


Technology has been advancing at an unprecedented rate over the past few decades and the benefits of increased computing power has trickled into nearly all aspects of medical technology and medical practices. When it comes to the realm of supercomputers, IBM’s Watson has received attention for being the most advanced computing platform available today. In a recent collaborative study conducted between IBM and New York Genome Center (NYGC), researchers found that IMB’s ability to crunch and analyze massive data sets has massive implications for diagnosis and development of treatment plans for patients who need immediate medical attention. By combining the tremendous computing power of supercomputers such as IBM Watson and the guidance of experienced medical professionals, there is potential to cut time required to analyze and diagnose an illness by as much as 99%.

To help us understand the potential increased computing power holds for medical practices is Dr. Imran Haque, a general practitioner and physician based out of South Carolina. He firmly believes that leveraging the massive processing capabilities of supercomputers will lead to significant strides in treating patients with time-sensitive illnesses. He will be leveraging his extensive experience of over 15 years to help explain how the synergy between supercomputers and experienced medical researchers can help lead to more effective and efficient medicine.

Study Overview and IBM Watson

For a long time, IBM has been working to develop Watson’s “cognitive computing” platform so that it can be utilized to help aid healthcare initiatives, such as speeding up drug discovery and aiding doctors with patient care. The study in question is a collaborative effort between NYGC and IBM Watson where researchers ran a hypothetical case study on how to best treat a 76-year old man who suffered from a nasty glioblastoma tumor. In practice, the patient underwent surgery, received radiation therapy, and started chemotherapy but he ultimately passed away after a year. In order to determine what went wrong, researchers conducted a post-mortem review where they took a comprehensive look at his genome and found that there were a number of mutations that were never captured, of which prior knowledge of could have helped save his life. Dr. Imran Haque points out that when it comes to cancer diagnosis and treatment, scanning and analyzing a patient’s whole genome by hand is an extremely time-intensive and expensive process. In order to make costs more manageable, most hospitals run a test called a panel – which provides high level information which can help doctors devise a treatment plan.

Two Big Study Questions

IBM Watson’s supercomputing abilities come into play here. One of the big questions of the study was whether or not it was feasible and cost-effective to utilize the super-computing powers of Watson in order to scan a person’s whole genome. The answer was yes. In a head-to-head study between NYGC clinicians and Watson, both identified mutations in genes that were not revealed in the initial panel test – but could have huge implications on better and more effective treatment plans. The second question was whether or not IBM Watson could extrapolate the data and recommend an effective and safe treatment plan for the theoretical patient. In this case, both NYGC clinicians and Watson were able to comb through medical literature and recommend a treatment plan. While Watson arrived at a conclusion first, it did not suggest the best option since NYGC clinicians were able to identify two key gene mutations that when considered together, led to a recommendation of a clinical trial that targeted both mutations with one therapy. Dr. Imran Haque points out that utilizing supercomputer such as IBM Watson will not replace medical researchers, but will rather serve as an extremely powerful tool to greatly expedite the analysis process – ultimately saving time and increasing the likelihood of survival for the patient.

Significant Differences in Processing Speed

When it came to time required for analysis – the NYGC clinicians took 160 hours to analyze, diagnose, and come up with the optimal treatment plan. IBM Watson took 10 minutes. While IBM Watson may not have necessarily come up with the best treatment plan, it’s impossible to dismiss the implications and the raw processing power the supercomputer has. More importantly, it hints towards a future where clinicians and medical researchers can be almost a hundred times more effective, as their tests and hypothesis can be completed and analyzed so much faster than before. Dr. Imran Haque points out the implications extend far beyond just diagnosing illnesses and treatment plans – it also signals an astonishing increased pace of research and drug development. More importantly, IBM Watson can analyze medical literature far in excess of what an individual or a team can review – and the system can retain perfect memory of everything it reads.

Supercomputer Processing and the Future of Medicine

Dr. Imran Haque believes that leveraging supercomputer processing capabilities is a step forward to a future of more effective and efficient medicine. It bodes well for nearly all aspects of medicine, ranging from illness diagnosis, drug development, and even treatment plan proposals. More importantly, being able to leverage supercomputer’s ability to crunch tremendous data sets and extrapolate actionable information means hat more comprehensive and in-depth tests become an option for the future. This will mean that the process of drug development, testing, and clinical trials will only become more efficient in the future. By teaming up researchers with supercomputers like IBM Watson, medical practices and drug development will skyrocket in speed, efficiency, and effectiveness in the future.


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