Duke University to study mysteries behind the causes of heart attacks on IBM SP

Dallas 07 November 2000Duke University researchers will use an IBM SP supercomputer to create models of the heart which they hope will lead to uncovering causes and developing treatments for life-threatening heart conditions. Dr. John Pormann and the Electro-physiology research team at Duke University are generating accurate and complex modelling of electrical currents flowing through the heart and nerve tissue.


Irregular heart beats and heart attacks, the leading cause of death in the United States and abroad, are a result of improper electrical impulses flowing through the heart. Complex mathematical computer models, based on lab data, recreate the heart's reaction to various electrical stimuli. Using the SP supercomputer, researchers can change the model's variables, run simulations and determine the heart's reaction to different electrical stimuli.

For realistic computer modelling of the heart, Duke researchers send huge amounts of data to the IBM SP supercomputer, located at the North Carolina Supercomputing Center. With no less than 720 processors, this system is one of the fastest computers in the world, ranking 16 on the list of Top500 Supercomputers in November 2000.

The IBM SP machine receives and runs multiple researchers' simulations concurrently on different processors. Researchers can simulate parts of the heart comparing how specific deviations affect the heart function and then incrementally add new complexities to their simulation. Results from various simulations can be compared by running simulations against each other.

As a result of this research, the Duke Computational Electro-physiology Group has developed realistic computer models depicting normal as well as irregular heart functions. The wavefront or sweep of electrical activity, that precedes the mechanical contraction of the heart, indeed can propagate itself in a regular or in a fragmented way from the bottom of the heart. Irregular individual "wavelets" can cause a loss of mechanical pumping ability, fibrillation, and even a heart attack.

"Duke University is engaged in vitally important research that has the potential to impact the lives of countless people", stated Peter Ungaro, vice president of Scientific and Technical Computing, IBM Server Group. The simulation models can provide the researchers with more insight into the mechanisms which generate and sustain arrhythmias. Such simulations obviously limit the amount of animal testing which needs to be done, but equally allow to offer more detailed results than are otherwise possible with experimental procedures.

"Using the same technology as ASCI White, the SP which enables Duke to create this research, is an example of the vast uses for supercomputing power from testing nuclear weapon stockpiles to heart modelling, opening the doors to many commercial and research-based uses.", Mr. Ungaro added. For more information on Duke University's simulations of electrical current flow within the human heart, you can visit the home page of the CardioWave research project.

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