IBM’s Watson Will Give You Health Advice Based On Your DNA

Nov 20, 2014

Image credit: Richard Wheeler via Wikimedia Commons

By Francie Diep

Maybe you have a fitness tracker. Maybe you’ve gotten your genome sequenced before. Probably your medical records are kept in electronic, instead of paper, form. Now some companies are seeking to combine all those things and more into a talking, personalized, health-advice app. Not sure when to give yourself your next insulin shot after having a croissant for breakfast? You can ask the app. How much exercise should someone with your genetic makeup be getting? The app will give you suggestions.

At least, that’s the goal of the app-makers, who include developers from IBM and a startup called Pathway Genomics. If the app, called Pathway Panorama, works as expected, it will be one of the most detailed and personalized health-advice apps we’ve ever heard of. It will bring an unprecedented amount of information to bear on the advice it gives you.

Pathway Genomics can sequence your DNA and provide an analysis as to what what those jumbled letters mean. Meanwhile, IBM’s artificial intelligence engine, Watson, will make it possible for the app to understand what users are asking it. Watson also is able to read and understand information online, so it will be able to do things like “read” published medical literature to help answer users’ questions. After all, that’s how Watson won Jeopardy, when IBM first introduced it.

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3 comments on “IBM’s Watson Will Give You Health Advice Based On Your DNA

  • It sounds like Watson is going to look at complete sequences of people and try to figure out what it means by correlating with information it has about the patients.

    I remember in the early days of computers, one of the big advantages of getting a computer printout was that people assumed it was true, and did whatever it requested. I remember convincing the guy in charge of a physics lab the equipment was broken using a computer generated graph, when he had ignored the pleas of dozens of students. These Watson apps may have a similar boost at the beginning because of “technology magic” induced compliance.

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  • 2
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Medical advice based on a person’s genome is not a new idea. Having Watson do it is new.

    But what I have read about it is that companies that provide this service only do a partial sequencing since a full sequencing is way too expensive for most people. And it was found that the results and medical advice varied a lot from one company to the next since each sequenced a different portion of the same person’s genome.

    So, bottom line is: unless you get a complete sequencing of your genome, medical advice based on sequencing is of limited value, to say the least. The part I don’t know is if the prices have come down or not for full sequencing since I read the article that related this information (about 2-3 years ago).

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  • I find it ironic all this emphasis on getting customized health advise based on your genome when for the vast majority of people the best advise pretty much always comes down to: eat better (more veggies, less sugar and fat) and get more exercise.

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