IBM’s Watson Finds New Genes Linked To ALS

Priya Mukhi, Staff Writer

On December 14th, the IBM Watson Health and Barrow Neurological Institute announced that new genes linked to ALS have been found. Researchers at Barrow were able to make this groundbreaking discovery using Watson, IBM’s supercomputer that first gained popularity in 2011 facing previous winners Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a game of Jeopardy!.

Watson tries to mimic the way the human brain works by collecting data and recognizing patterns. This simulation of human cogitation is called cognitive computing, which is used in many artificial applications such as Watson. IBM’s renowned supercomputer is also able to answer questions posed in natural language.

ALS, which stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and is commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rare debilitating illness that breaks down nerve cells, causing decreased functionality of muscles in the human body. Cases of ALS are usually found in adults, and there is currently no cure.

The discovery of new genes was significant because of how quickly Barrow Neurological Institute and IBM Watson were able to find them. The supercomputer played a big part in making the process faster, by classifying nearly 1,500 genes in the human genome for researchers and predicting which genes might be correlated to ALS. Without Watson, this research would have taken a few years rather than the few months it took. In a press conference, Dr. Tina Moen, PharmaD, Deputy Chief Health Officer for IBM Watson Health  mentioned, “Traditional research tools… are quickly becoming inadequate for the pace that the market needs, that our patients need, to be able to find discoveries and make new inferences to make differences in the lives of people.”

You can check out a short clip describing more of the work done between IBM Watson Health and Barrow Neurological Institute here: