IBM Will Harness Fitness and Health Data from Apple Devices

A new IBM Watson Health unit will analyze personal health data to hopefully benefit patients, physicians and researchers

2 min read
IBM Will Harness Fitness and Health Data from Apple Devices
Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

All the health data on a single person collected by personal fitness trackers, mobile apps and electronic medical records could add up to more than 1 million gigabytes of health data in the average lifetime – the equivalent of about 300 million books. IBM has partnered with Apple and other companies in an effort to harness that data to improve personalized medical care for patients, as well as provide new insights for both medical research and health insurers.

IBM’s new Watson Health unit aims to analyze personal health data using the cognitive computing approach of its Watson artificial intelligence system. The technoloy giant is also building an online data-sharing hub named the Watson Health Cloud that will bring together clinical, research and social data from a swarm of sources. As part of the effort, IBM has teamed up with Apple to collect health data from iOS apps that are built upon Apple’s HealthKit and ResearchKit software frameworks. That means any personal health data entered by customers using such apps on their iPhones and iPads could flow to the Watson Health Cloud.

human os icon

“Our deep understanding and history in the healthcare industry will help ensure that doctors and researchers can maximize the insights available through Apple’s HealthKit and ResearchKit data,” said John E. Kelly III, senior vice president of the IBM research and solutions portfolio, in a press release

IBM has also joined forces with Johnson & Johnson to develop intelligent virtual coaching apps that could talk to patients about managing their overall wellness and chronic conditions. For example, the first generation of such apps might help patients dealing with joint replacements and spine surgeries. Johnson & Johnson hopes to take advantage of the new IBM-Apple partnership to launch new apps aimed at iPhone and iPad users.

Several companies recently acquired by IBM will also contribute their health data to the Watson Health Cloud. One new acquisition is Explorys, a healthcare intelligence cloud company that has amassed clinical data about more than 50 million lives. IBM has also acquired Phytel, a company that has developed health management software to analyze elecronic medical records to help reduce patient hospital readmissions and automate efforts to keep tabs on patients.

A separate IBM partnership with Medtronics aims to combine analytics software with health-monitoring devices to deliver more personalized care for the millions of people who have diabetes.

The idea of personal health data becoming shareable information for physicians, medical researchers and health insurers naturally comes with some privacy concerns for individuals. But Kelly told the New York Times that the personal data read by the Watson Health Cloud would be made anonymous. He also added that none of the data analyzed by Watson would actually be taken from hospital or health company data centers and put in a huge centralized database.

The new IBM announcements come on the heel of news that the company would invest $3 billion in a new business unit focused on analyzing the rivers of data coming from Internet-connected devices.

The Conversation (0)
A photo showing machinery in a lab

Foundries such as the Edinburgh Genome Foundry assemble fragments of synthetic DNA and send them to labs for testing in cells.

Edinburgh Genome Foundry, University of Edinburgh

In the next decade, medical science may finally advance cures for some of the most complex diseases that plague humanity. Many diseases are caused by mutations in the human genome, which can either be inherited from our parents (such as in cystic fibrosis), or acquired during life, such as most types of cancer. For some of these conditions, medical researchers have identified the exact mutations that lead to disease; but in many more, they're still seeking answers. And without understanding the cause of a problem, it's pretty tough to find a cure.

We believe that a key enabling technology in this quest is a computer-aided design (CAD) program for genome editing, which our organization is launching this week at the Genome Project-write (GP-write) conference.

With this CAD program, medical researchers will be able to quickly design hundreds of different genomes with any combination of mutations and send the genetic code to a company that manufactures strings of DNA. Those fragments of synthesized DNA can then be sent to a foundry for assembly, and finally to a lab where the designed genomes can be tested in cells. Based on how the cells grow, researchers can use the CAD program to iterate with a new batch of redesigned genomes, sharing data for collaborative efforts. Enabling fast redesign of thousands of variants can only be achieved through automation; at that scale, researchers just might identify the combinations of mutations that are causing genetic diseases. This is the first critical R&D step toward finding cures.

Keep Reading ↓Show less