Nov. 22, 2022 – 1960 market the advent of computers in medicine. Expensive, bulky plastic and metal saddles that could (maybe) get test results to the doctor faster. The 1980s saw the first real functions that computers could offer—clinical, financial, administrative—and in 1991 the Institute of Medicine published the first policy document on what electronic health records could (and would) be.
Since then, we have seen a computing revolution in all areas of medicine, with artificial intelligence, virtual reality and telemedicine at the forefront. But something else is on the rise that not many people know about yet: quantum computers, a completely new type of computing that has already begun to advance everything from drug development and diagnosis to the security of electronic data.
“Think of it as the transition from getting light through fire and candles to now having electricity, and it’s a light bulb that illuminates everything,” says Lara Jehi, MD, chief research information officer at the Cleveland Clinic.
What is quantum mechanics?
Classic computers (aka binary computers), which are the basis of today’s devices, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, operate using information called bits. These appear as 0 or 1 (sometimes defined as off/on or false/true).
Quantum computers, on the other hand, use quantum bits called qubits. And yes, the definition of “quantum” – as in: very, very small – applies.
International Business Machines, better known as IBM, is currently leading this new technology. A common misconception about quantum computers is that they are “the next evolution of computing that’s going to get faster,” says Frederik Flöther, PhD in life sciences and healthcare at IBM Quantum Industry Consulting. Instead, he wants us to think of the quantum computer as something completely new “because it’s fundamentally different hardware, different software, not just an evolution of the same thing.”
How does it work differently than current computers? Quantum computers are found in nature. Therefore, qubits must be based on nature. What does that mean? Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman was famously quoted as saying, “Nature isn’t classical, dammit, and if you want to make a simulation of nature, you’d better make it quantum, and in saying that it’s a wonderful problem, because it doesn’t look so easy out.”
Nature, says Jehi, does not work in black and white or fit into a box.
“We have to convert it to zeros and ones because that’s what computers speak,” she explains. But quantum mechanics uses the principles of quantum mechanics. “That’s exactly how nature works, because it’s based on the fundamental unity of everything in nature, which is atomic structure.”
Very, very little actually. And that’s why quantum mechanics could be a game-changing technology in medicine.
“Quantum computers can be used to represent lots of different solutions to a problem at the same time and then collapse down to the best solution, the one that actually works,” says Tony Uttley, president and chief operating officer of Quantum, a collaboration between Cambridge Quantum and Honeywell Quantum Solutions working to drive the future of quantum science. “And the reason it does that is because of the amazing properties of quantum physics.”
Establishment of a quantum computing beachhead
Scientists around the world are researching quantum computers and looking at how they can use this technology to achieve great results in the medical world.
IBM has created the IBM Quantum Network and is partnering with different organizations, from startups to Fortune 500 companies, to develop and test technology in a variety of settings. One of these collaborations with the Cleveland Clinic is intended to establish a “discovery accelerator” focused on advancing healthcare through high-performance computing on the hybrid cloud, quantum computing and artificial intelligence.
Many across the country are now using this technology on existing computers by tapping into the cloud, but with limited qubit access. IBM has scientists in places like Germany and Japan working on quantum computers and will be setting up the first of IBM’s next-generation 1,000+ qubit quantum systems in the country at the Cleveland Clinic campus, which they plan to use to help further research into multi-predicted quantum computers . Pros.
But what are these advantages?
Drug discovery and development
Quantum chemistry is one major field that quantum mechanics is poised to help.
“An immediate application of this would be in drug discovery,” says Jehi. When scientists create drugs, they sit in a lab and develop different chemical formulas for what the drug might be.
“But for us to really know if it’s going to work, we need to be able to imagine how this combination of chemicals will translate structurally,” she says.
Even in their most powerful form, today’s supercomputers are slow in their ability to convert this chemical formula on paper into a simulation of what the compound will look like. And in many cases they cannot do this type of analysis.
“So we make the drugs without knowing exactly what they’re going to look like, which really isn’t the best way to make a drug that you expect to work,” Jehi explains. “It’s a waste of time to make compounds that won’t have any effect.”
Quantum computers will allow scientists to create and visualize these molecular structures and know how they bind and interact with the human body. Essentially, they will know if a potential drug will work before they have to physically create it.
As quantum computers differ from classical computing, their capabilities are not limited to simulating how different chemical compounds can appear. Being able to mimic the chemical compounds that make up drugs can lead to faster discovery of drugs to treat a wide range of diseases.
Ultimately, this technology could aid in disease diagnosis, working at the molecular level to allow computers/artificial intelligence to contemplate, for example, cancer molecules and gain a deeper understanding of how they work.
Jehi says quantum mechanics can also be used to study things like chronic disease. These are conditions that people have to live with and manage, and how a person feels in this case can vary from day to day, based on things like what a person is eating, the weather, or the medication she is taking.
“There are so many different possibilities for what could change a patient’s trajectory one way versus another,” says Jehi.
She emphasizes that if we have a group of patients, and we’ve captured everything that’s happened to them in their disease journey, it’s very challenging to model what that group looks like and then study the effects of these different interventions on them in the traditional way. computer science.
“It’s just going to be way too complicated and the computers we have can’t keep up with analyzing the effects of different possibilities.” It gets confused,” says Jehi.
But quantum computing can offer quantum machine learning, which means you use this special quantum capability to deal with different simulations and different possibilities.
The Cleveland Clinic, for example, is looking at how some patients who undergo general surgery have heart problems after their procedures.
“It would be transformative if we could identify in advance who is most at risk of having a heart attack after surgery, so we could better care for these people,” she says.
The clinic’s current data set contains records for 450,000 patients, and current AI/machine learning makes sifting through this very slow and complex. The clinic uses machine learning techniques to create a synthetic data set, a smaller population that is a replica of the much larger one. Quantum technology could improve and accelerate this analysis to produce models that perform better.
“Imagine going in for a CT scan,” says Uttley. “There are already AI solutions that you can run this set of images through and ask, ‘Does this look like something that would be cancer?'” This existing technology, he explains, works well on things that are typical and have been identified before, because that’s how machine learning works. If an AI has seen something 100,000 times, it can often find something else similar to it.
But today’s classical computers are not equipped to identify something unfamiliar. “These are places where quantum computers can be much better at thinking about images and can say, ‘I can detect rare cancers or rare diseases where you don’t have a large collection of things that look like this,'” Uttley says. .
This is also where scientists can use quantum computing to be able to figure out what things are could Look like.
“The beauty of the quantum computer is that it is a bias in quantum physics, this more probabilistic design. And so you can take advantage of this probabilistic design to help them think about this,” says Uttley.
How far out are we?
Uttley says that we are in the emerging era of quantum mechanics. Quantum computers exist, and that’s a big deal, but much of this technology is still in its infancy.
“It’s a bit like we’re at the beginning of the Internet, dictating how things are going to play out,” he explains.
Now companies like Quantinum are looking to perform calculations on both a quantum computer and a classical computer, compare the results and say, “We get the same answer.”
“So, this is a period where we can build confidence and say that these quantum computers are actually working properly,” Uttley explains.
In the future, he says, we may be able to imagine something like quantum imaging research that is able to understand your body in a way that sends that data to a quantum computer to detect what’s wrong and be able to tell the difference between cancerous and non-cancerous. It will allow faster treatments and adapt them to specific patient groups.
“What we’re doing today might seem a little less sexy than that, but is perhaps just as important,” says Uttley.
This is using quantum computers to generate the best encryption keys that can be generated. The medical community, which is already using quantum computing to accomplish this, is excited that this is a better way to keep patient data as secure as possible.
In June, Quantinum launched InQuanto, a quantum computing software that enables computational chemists, who until now had only classical computers at their fingertips. The move created an opportunity to start thinking about the problems they were working on and what they would do with a quantum computer. As quantum computers become more powerful over the years, Uttley says the software will move from tasks like isolating a single molecule to solving larger problems.
“It’s going to happen in the next decade, where I think we’re going to see the first kind of real use cases come out in the next probably 2 to 3 years,” he says. For now, this technology will probably be used alongside classic computers.
Uttley says that advances in the world of quantum mechanics and medicine will continue to grow slowly and steadily, and in the coming years we will likely see things start to click and then eventually take off “in full swing.”