The Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 29, 1999
November 29, 1999
VOL. 29, NO. 13


Supercomputer Will Help Engineers Study Brain and Heart

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

The university has begun installing an IBM RS/6000 SP supercomputer in its Center for Imaging Science at the Whiting School of Engineering to help find cures for diseases of the heart and brain via image analysis.

Specifically, researchers will use the system to try to discover why, so often, the brain degenerates with age, and what causes illnesses including schizophrenia and dementia. In addition, researchers hope to learn how heart attacks can be avoided by testing different medication combinations on heart models in pre-arrhythmia condition.

The researchers will use IBM's deep computing technologies to construct three-dimensional, interactive computer models on the RS/6000 SP describing the body's anatomical structure and physiological behavior.

These models span from the model of a single gene up to the composite intricacies of organs such as the heart and brain and will give researchers a better understanding of the relationships between microscopic structures and organ functions in both healthy and diseased brains and hearts.

By conducting this groundbreaking research, researchers will seek to develop novel drugs and therapies to help doctors and patients battle major organ disease. Using the RS/6000 SP, scientists hope to cut research times and bring drug therapies to market sooner.

"The RS/6000 SP supercomputing technology will allow us to analyze and access brain images from large numbers of individuals in databases, which provides an opportunity to make precise statistical statements about the onset of diseases related to the human brain," said Michael Miller, director of the Center for Imaging Science. "This has not been possible until now because of the sheer complexity of the analysis."

"Because of the human body's complexity and the volume of data involved, computer modeling is now emerging as both a powerful and necessary tool in understanding various cellular and tissue relationships," said Raimond Winslow, head of the Center for Computational Medicine and Biology, a branch of the Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Institute. "With computerized simulations, we are gaining understanding about the functions and processes of the human heart, and saving lives by managing the threat of heart attack and disease."

Miller and his colleagues also will have access to the IBM RS/6000 SP of the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, which is expected to be capable of one teraflop performance by the end of the year. The system will have more than 1,000 microprocessors and will be one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. Computer modeling will be done at both facilities, with the more computationally intensive work being done at SDSC.

Authorized researchers from around the world can access SDSC's IBM supercomputer via the Internet. For example, scientists at UCLA, Washington University and Cal Tech can generate tissue samples, have them analyzed by algorithms from Johns Hopkins and distribute them nationwide through SDSC's Supercomputer Center.

"SDSC's supercomputing power combined with our own RS/6000 SP will allow us to pool the expertise and data of numerous investigators and labs all around the world," Miller said. "Such a collaborative effort, with its rapid information exchange, can only help us make great strides against modern-day diseases."