Massachusetts General Hospital and IBM to improve information sharing among cancer researchers

Boston 18 November 2004Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, and IBM are working together to study how the development of a Grid-based, distributed computing infrastructure can facilitate improved collaboration and information sharing among cancer researchers. Working with cancer researcher Dr. Thomas Deisboeck, M.D., of MGH's Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, who is also affiliated with the Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), IBM computer scientists at the company's Cambridge, Massachusetts, research lab have built a Grid of high-performance computers designed to improve information sharing and help researchers gain new insight through advanced brain tumour modelling and simulation.

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The Grid includes IBM eServer pSeries supercomputers on Harvard's Crimson Grid and at MIT, linked with multiple IBM eServer Bladecenter servers at the company's Cambridge facility. "Effective tools for information management, integrated tightly with underlying computing and data infrastructures, are key to life sciences researchers gaining new insights into complex problems", stated David Grossman, Distinguished Engineer, IBM Internet Technology Group. "In addition, the use of semantic Web technologies to integrate many sources and formats of data with advanced modelling algorithms is particularly helpful for this type of large-scale collaborative project."

In October, Dr. Deisboeck was one of nine research leaders receiving a total of $14,9 million in National Cancer Institute (NCI) funding to establish an Integrative Cancer Biology Programme (ICBP). Centres participating in that multi-institutional programme will incorporate a spectrum of new approaches and technologies including genomics, proteomics, and molecular imaging, to design mathematical models and generate computer simulations that could improve the understanding of tumour growth.

"There is an urgent need to develop a common, unifying infrastructure that enables the integration and sharing of knowledge about cancer, both in terms of disparate data and distinct computational tools, with the goal of modelling cancer as a complex dynamic system", stated Dr. Deisboeck. "While advances in cancer research and new technologies have generated a wealth of new data and insight, all too often the lack of shared systems and standards makes integration of this crucial knowledge difficult or impossible."

By establishing the ICBP, the NCI has acknowledged the need to generate complex synthetic models of cancer. At the same time, the NCI has identified the lack of common technical standards and tools for information sharing among cancer researchers and institutions as a significant inhibitor to more rapid progress in the fight against cancer.

"The NCI's important mission can only be achieved through these types of public-private partnerships, which leverage the strengths of different institutions in a variety of disciplines", stated Dr. Dan Gallahan, Associate Director, Division of Cancer Biology, National Cancer Institute. "There is nowhere that this is more true than in our battle against cancer."

Over the next three to five years, Dr. Deisboeck will work with IBM and an international team of collaborating scientists to develop a multi-scaled "virtual tumour", which will model a tumour from its earliest stage as a single cell up to a neoplasm with millions of interacting cells. The goal is to better understand and ultimately to predict the growth patterns of patient-specific tumours accurately enough to allow successful targeting.

In addition to the Grid, IBM has developed a Linux-based, high-resolution video wall featuring 9,2 million pixel monitors, to provide MGH with the visualization capabilities required for the advanced modelling of tumours.

Massachusetts General Hospital, established in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research programme in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $400 million and major research centres in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, cutaneous biology, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, transplantation biology and photomedicine.


Leslie Versweyveld

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