'Uncovering a treasure': Cleveland Clinic's next steps in quantum computing

Nearly a year has passed since Cleveland Clinic and IBM unveiled the world's first quantum computer dedicated to healthcare research. The computer — which is also the first onsite, private sector IBM-managed quantum computer in the U.S. — is among the biggest ways the health system has changed in the last year, according to Serpil Erzurum, MD, chief research and academic officer of Cleveland Clinic.

The healthcare computer, dubbed IBM's Quantum System One, was installed at the Lerner Research Institute at Cleveland Clinic's main campus in March. The goal: to help the health system accelerate biomedical discoveries as part of its Discovery Accelerator partnership with IBM, which was announced in 2021.

"When we joined with them, we had in our mind that we would be advancing the pace of discovery and innovation for healthcare, the life sciences really," Dr. Erzurum told Becker's. "And so our researchers were excited to have the tools and the technologies that IBM brought to us."

The combined team has launched nine quantum projects while another eight are in the development phase. This includes using quantum-enhanced prediction models for cardiovascular risk following non-cardiac surgery.

"Our collaboration with Cleveland Clinic combines their world-renowned expertise in healthcare and life sciences with IBM's next-generation technologies to make scientific discovery faster, and the scope of that discovery larger than ever," Arvind Krishna, IBM's CEO, said in a post on Cleveland Clinic's website.

Dr. Erzurum said analog computers lack the capability of data analysis to ingest and analyze each individual at a rate of speed to give answers in real time. However, the quantum computer is up to the task.

"It can process, it can analyze, it can return information and it can be real time," she said. "And so we're starting now with prediction models that will be personalized. … We're starting with cardiovascular risk prediction models, and those are for people not having cardiac surgery. So if you have a regular surgical procedure, what are the odds for you [as an individual] for having a cardiovascular event? After the surgery, we've never been able to specify an individual's risk."

As part of the Discovery Accelerator partnership, Cleveland Clinic is also using artificial intelligence to search genome sequencing findings and large drug-target databases to find drugs that can help patients with Alzheimer's and other diseases.

"We have a whole armamentarium in our pharmacies," Dr. Erzurum said. "Is it possible that there's a drug sitting on the shelf that could work for a disease that we don't have treatment for yet? That's a whole different way of doing discovery. It doesn't necessarily generate a lot of revenue. But it's uncovering a treasure that's sitting there."

Preparing the next generation

In addition to the discovery and acceleration efforts, Cleveland Clinic is training future scientists, physicians and caregivers on quantum computing and AI. 

"ChatGPT is here. We have to be able to interact in the digital world, which means we need to be competent," Dr. Erzurum said. This means "you feel competent in this world to know what a quibit [short for quantum bit] is. You feel competent in this world to know what HPC [high-performance computing] stands for. You know what a server is. You know what code is being written. And you can participate in the digital economy. You can get a job. The best thing you can do now as a young person is to learn computational sciences, artificial intelligence, data science."

Looking ahead, Cleveland Clinic has no plans to stem progress regarding quantum computing. Early this year, the health system plans to announce participants for its Quantum Innovation Catalyzer Program, which aims to foster competition among startup life sciences and healthcare technology companies interested in investigating quantum computing's potential applications. Participants are expected to be announced by March 15. 

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