‘Google for brain imaging.’
Grid computing, long used by physicists and astronomers to crunch masses of data quickly and efficiently, is making the leap into the world of biomedicine. Supported by EU-funding, researchers have networked hundreds of computers to help find treatments for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. They are calling their system the ‘Google for brain imaging.’
Through the Neugrid project, the pan-European grid computing infrastructure has opened up new channels of research into degenerative neurological disorders and other illnesses, while also holding the promise of quicker and more accurate clinical diagnoses of individual patients.
The infrastructure, set up with the support of EUR 2.8 million in funding from the European Commission, was developed over three years by researchers in seven countries. Their aim, primarily, was to give neuroscientists the ability to quickly and efficiently analyse ‘Magnetic resonance imaging’ (MRI) scans of the brains of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. But their work has also helped open the door to the use of grid computing for research into other neurological disorders, and many other areas of medicine.
‘Neugrid was launched to address a very real need. Neurology departments in most hospitals do not have quick and easy access to sophisticated MRI analysis resources. They would have to send researchers to other labs every time they needed to process a scan. So we thought, why not bring the resources to the researchers rather than sending the researchers to the resources,’ explains Giovanni Frisoni, a neurologist and the deputy scientific director of IRCCS Fatebenefratelli, the Italian National Centre for Alzheimer’s and Mental Diseases, in Brescia.
Five years’ work in two weeks The Neugrid team, led by David Manset from MaatG in France and Richard McClatchey from the University of the West of England in Bristol, laid the foundations for the grid infrastructure, starting with five distributed nodes of 100 cores (CPUs) each, interconnected with grid middleware and accessible via the internet with an easy-to-use web browser interface. To test the infrastructure, the team used datasets of images from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative in the United States, the largest public database of MRI scans of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and a lesser condition termed ‘Mild cognitive impairment‘.
‘In Neugrid we have been able to complete the largest computational challenge ever attempted in neuroscience: we extracted 6,500 MRI scans of patients with different degrees of cognitive impairment and analysed them in two weeks,’ Dr. Frisoni, the lead researcher on the project, says, ‘on an ordinary computer it would have taken five years!’.
Though Alzheimer’s disease affects about half of all people aged 85 and older, its causes and progression remain poorly understood. Worldwide more than 35 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s, a figure that is projected to rise to over 115 million by 2050 as the world’s population ages.
Patients with early symptoms have difficulty recalling the names of people and places, remembering recent events and solving simple maths problems. As the brain degenerates, patients in advanced stages of the disease lose mental and physical functions and require round-the-clock care.
via Science Daily ᔥ
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