• By Robert Nellis

Mayo Clinic and IBM Task Watson to Improve Clinical Trial Research

September 9, 2014

doctor, nurse and child patientROCHESTER, Minn. — Mayo Clinic and IBM (NYSE: IBM) today 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 currently 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 so we can deliver exactly the care that the patient needs,” says Steven Alberts, M.D., chair of medical oncology at Mayo Clinic.


Researchers hope the increased speed also will speed new discoveries.

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 over 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.

“With shorter times from initiation to completion of trials, our research teams will have the capacity for deeper, more complete investigations,” says Nicholas LaRusso, M.D., a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and the project lead for the Mayo-IBM Watson collaboration. “Coupled with increased accuracy, we will be able to develop, refine and improve new and better techniques in medicine at a higher level.”

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, become even more efficient and likely more generalizable. Watson also may help locate patients for hard-to-fill trials, such as those involving rare diseases.

Many clinical trials at Mayo Clinic and elsewhere are not completed due to lack of sufficient enrollment. Enrollment in general could be increased by the Watson project. In spite of well-organized efforts, even at Mayo Clinic, just five percent of patients take part in studies. Nationally, the rate is even lower, at three percent. Mayo hopes to raise clinical trial involvement to include up to 10 percent of its patients. Researchers say the higher participation also should improve the quality of research outcomes.

“Ultimately, we believe Watson will help advance scientific discoveries into promising new forms of care that clinicians can use to treat all patients,” said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president, IBM Watson Group. “Through this effort, Mayo Clinic can consistently offer more medical options to patients and conclude clinical trials faster.”

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, such as ClinicalTrials.gov. The new Watson system is being trained to analyze patient records and clinical trial criteria in order to determine appropriate matches for patients.

Mayo and IBM are discussing other applications for Watson in the future.


About Mayo Clinic
Recognizing 150 years of serving humanity in 2014, Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit worldwide leader in medical care, research and education for people from all walks of life. For more information, visit 150years.mayoclinic.org, http://www.mayoclinic.org and newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org.

About IBM
Learn more about IBM Watson at ibm.com/watson
Learn more about IBM Smarter Healthcare at ibm.com/smarterhealthcare

Robert Nellis, Mayo Clinic Public Affairs, 507-284-5005, newsbureau@mayo.edu


My daughter is using one for an Android and it is working wonders, but the person using it needs education too. Like how many people really read the contents of a product, we taught our daughters to do it when shopping. My wife who teaches nutrition and how to cook/eat indicates there are a lot of people out there who do not know even what scratch cooking is and rely on hamburger helper let alone reading the contents of the product. I sure hope this research does not focus on the college sophmore and look towards the poor people and their attitudes. So many times we use an audience of the more knowledgeable and forget the people without a good education. Yes our Food Stamp program is good and helps fight the obesity problem. Yes we are on the verge of getting rid of this important tool and education in the US. We got rid of Home Economics in the schools and we are suffering becasue of it. Hey we still have football though.


Great devices, I wear a bracelet that tracks my steps, sleep, and eating patterns and sitting at a computer all day it reminds me to get up and stretch every 1/2 hour.


Is there a Mayo App for that? I saw previously that Mayo has a pregnancy app, this would be used longer and by more of a variety of people.


Is Koepp still accepting study participants?:)


I'm a numbers person so when my mother-in-law gave me a fitbit for my birthday it was greatly appreciated. I definately agree that until you track your activity, it's easy to think you're active. Many of my family members now have fitbits and we've connected online and now it's a competition to see who can get the most steps each week. It's a lot of fun and gives us all something to talk about when we get together. I think it'd be a great idea for doctors to use with their patients so both the patient and doctor can track actual activity rather than relying on journaling. The only feature left is for it to knock the donuts out of my hand as I try to eat them. 😉


I recently got a FitBit Flex and love it! It tracks steps, calories in/out, water intake, sleep cycle, and activities. It really keeps me motivated to reach the various goals I set, and you can find friends who also have a FitBit and motivate each other. I can see how they could really aid physicians in tracking real activity against reported activity, and help patients see their true activity.


buy a fitbit through vaporwire.net and compete in challenges and earn prizes and rewards while getting healthier.


These devices and other remote monitoring technologies are also useful in tracking activity levels and physiologic functions of elderly people who are largely confined to their home. Is Mayo Clinic exploring ways to leverage this technology for an aging population?


Does the Mayo Store sell Fit Bits?


I have a FitBit Flex. I never knew how many steps I took running back and forth in the lab. Amazing! I officially know I run for at work!


I would love to participate in this study. I look forward to hearing about the results and recommendations on the best tracker.

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