Launched in 2005 as one of the first, largest and most ambitious research centres of its kind, the Institute for Computational Medicine focuses on unraveling health problems through methods other than traditional "wet-lab" techniques such as growing cells in a dish. Some of its researchers, for instance, create elaborate computer models that mimic in virtual reality the real-world activity of living cells and organs. Researchers conduct experiments with these models, testing, for example, the effects of experimental medications. Others researchers use information technology to compare digital images of healthy and diseased tissue, looking for early indications of illness.
"With this federal grant, we will be able to buy a computer equipped with the next generation of microprocessors, hardware that will be available later this year", stated Raimond L. Winslow, director of the institute. "It will be the most powerful computer at Johns Hopkins, and very few other places have a computer this powerful dedicated to solving these types of biomedical problems. The computer will allow us to move toward important discoveries in medical diagnoses and treatment at a much faster speed."
The new device is expected to be a 256 dual quad-core node cluster computer with 1 petabyte of storage. A petabyte is a measure of digital information equivalent to 1 quadrillion bytes or 1000 terabytes. A common household computer or portable flash drive usually possesses storage capacity measured in gigabytes; a terabyte equals 1024 gigabytes of data.
The computer will be installed, tentatively in early 2009, in the university's Computational Science and Engineering Building. "We have a 1000-square-foot room reserved for it, and the computer will fill it up", Raimond L. Winslow stated. A vendor for the computer has not yet been selected.
The technological resource will be shared by more than a dozen faculty members affiliated with the Institute for Computational Medicine. Raimond L. Winslow predicted that it will also serve perhaps 100 other collaborators from the university's School of Medicine and Whiting School of Engineering and from other institutions.
Three Department of Biomedical Engineering faculty members who will be among the institute members using the computer to enhance their research are:
- Natalia Trayanova, who studies how dangerous arrhythmias are initiated and maintained in the heart. The new computer is expected to speed up her efforts to find the best ways to halt these irregular heart rhythms with shocks from a defibrillator.
- Michael I. Miller, who compares the shape of brain structures in images from healthy and diseased patients, looking for differences that may lead to better diagnoses and treatments. Michael I. Miller now uses linked computers across the country to collect the resources to conduct this research. When Michael I. Miller gets access to the new Johns Hopkins computer, Raimond L. Winslow said, work that now takes months to accomplish by cross-country connections should take only days to complete.
- Rachel Karchin, who is using computer models to predict how mutations in proteins can trigger the development of breast cancer. The new device should enable her to study this process in more complex and more detailed models, according to Raimond L. Winslow.