IBM, UCLA Collaborating on Big-Data Monitor for Brain Injuries

IBM is collaborating with Excel Medical Electronics (EME) and the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery on a system that could help predict dangerous brain pressure in patients with traumatic head injuries.

The system hinges on a software platform capable of analyzing real-time data from the patient’s bedside monitor, calibrates to pick up any changes in pulse, blood pressure, heart activity, respiration and other biometrics. In theory, those data-streams will provide advance warning of a dangerous situation to physicians and nurses, who might otherwise need to depend on a bedside monitor alarm that only activates when brain pressure crosses a critical threshold.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke gave UCLA’s Department of Neurosurgery a $1.2 million grant to help develop the system. IBM is contributing its InfoSphere Streams software to the effort. A component of IBM’s Big Data offerings, the software is capable of crunching massive amounts of real-time data. EME’s part centers on the BedMasterEx analytics software, which combines data from monitors and other medical devices.

“The field of big data analytics is evolving to include new kinds of data from sources such as medical monitors, giving us insights into patients that weren’t previously possible,” Dr. Martin Kohn, chief medical scientist for IBM Research, wrote in a statement. “We believe that UCLA’s promising research may one day transform the way that doctors and nurses interact with patients inside the neuro-intensive care unit.”

IBM has evolved into quite the player at the intersection of Big Data and medical technology, thanks in large part to its Watson supercomputing platform. In February, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City announced that, for the past year, it has partnered with IBM and WellPoint to train Watson in processing and interpreting oncology data.

IBM has long considered how to best use Watson, which boasts massive datasets and the ability to process natural-language queries—both useful things for researchers and doctors. Healthcare providers can upload electronic records to Watson, which then combines that data with medical sources such as journals to deliver insights into, say, a patient’s cancer diagnosis.

But Watson aside, IBM is clearly interested in seeing how its Big Data work can improve medical care. And why not? Considering the size of the healthcare industry, any IT vendor that can integrate its analytics into the aforementioned care stands to make some healthy profits.


Image: Marko Poplasen/