New Top 500 list also ranks uniquely dedicated "health care" supercomputers

Dallas 04 November 2000At the occasion of the SC2000 Conference on High Performance Computing and Networking, the sixteenth edition of the Supercomputer Top 500 is presented. The new list, traditionally issued twice a year in June and in November, includes five supercomputers which are exclusively dedicated to medical research and health data mining. Three of them were acquired in 2000 by the United States National Cancer Institute, United HealthCare, and the British company, Pharmaceutical Stevenage. The other two machines are located in Japan and applied for genetic data research since 1995 and 1998. In addition, a substantial number of supercomputing facilities figuring in the Top 500, is frequently used for advanced medical visualisation purposes and bio-informatics.

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Listed at rank 376, the IBM SP Power3 managed by the American National Cancer Institute (NCI), helps NCI scientists accelerate research into the causes and treatments for life-threatening diseases such as cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer's disease. Cancer researchers all over the world increasingly incorporate the latest high-speed computational methods into their studies. "Supercomputing's importance to cancer research will only grow in the coming years as studies move forward in defining the molecular causes of cancer", according to Jacob Maizel Jr., an NCI scientist and a founder of NCI's Advanced Biomedical Computing Center (ABCC).

For biologists, supercomputer-based simulations can provide a level of detail which is almost impossible to obtain from laboratory work. Supercomputers can quickly produce models which simulate the complete chemical structure of various regions of a human protein all the way down to the fine subatomic detail. These simulations, in turn, can be used to predict the folding patterns of the protein. Folding patterns are a major area of research interest because of their importance in determining how these protein structures interact with other proteins and drugs.

According to Stan Burt, Ph.D., director of NCI's ABCC, supercomputing will likely play a crucial role in translating recent advances in gene discovery into new, more targeted cancer treatments. "One of the great opportunities in cancer research today is to find molecules in tumour cells that are driving the tumour's growth and target those molecules directly with drugs or other treatments. As more of these molecular targets are identified, computational biology can play a key role in defining their precise chemical structure which is critical to designing compounds that can reliably hit these targets", explained Dr. Burt.

For its extensive database management activities, the U.S.-based enterprise United Healthcare has equally selected an IBM SP Power3 supercomputer. The company designs and operates health benefits systems with commercial, Medicare and Medicaid products. At present, this health care management organisation serves about 8.6 million individual consumers as members of its health service systems. United Healthcare arranges access to care with more than 340.000 physicians and 3500 hospitals across 44 U.S. markets and several international markets. In the Top 500 list, United Healthcare is listed at rank 455.

Close upon the heels of United Healthcare, Pharmaceutical Stevenage, based in the United Kingdom, is listed at rank 464. This company applies the SUN cluster combination HPC 10000 to speed up critical drugs design. Frequent supercomputing Top 500 visitors will recognise the Human Genome Center (HGC) at the University of Tokyo and the National Institute of Genetics (NIG) in Mishima, Japan as familiar candidates for a hot spot in the ranking. Both these institutions have contributed enormously to the development of novel methods on diagnosis, prevention, and care of human diseases. The HGC is housing a 1998 Hitachi SR2201/256 for genome analysis, whereas NIG still cherishes its 1995 Fujitsu VPP500/40 for bio-informatics research. At this institute, the DNA Data Bank of Japan (DDBJ) is established in the Center for Information Biology.

Once ranked among the 200 fastest supercomputing facilities, HGC and NIG currently are listed at position 471 and 487 respectively. More to the top of the list, the IBM SP Power3, hosted at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) is found at rank 8. SDSC has a long-standing tradition as a resource provider for genomics and protein research. Serious European runners-up are the Finnish Center for Scientific Computing (CSC) at rank 66 with a Cray T3E, delivering the high computational power to calculate complex fluid flow fields in bloods vessels for the DynAMo project, and the Berlin-based Konrad Zuse Zentrum für Informationstechnik (ZIB) at rank 74, equally with a Cray T3E. This German Center for Scientific Computing has several projects running in the field of medical visualisation. For a complete survey of all the supercomputers listed, we refer to the TOP500 home page.


Leslie Versweyveld

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