Grid computing tackles Alzheimer's Diseaese

Brescia 23 July 2010The extensive availability and accessibility of data in any field of the human knowledge, from humanities to medicine, can be accounted as the XXI century's revolution. However, in order to take advantage of these data at their best, society needs the right tools, softwares and infrastructures, which have to be planned and designed specifically, so as to be able to effectively analyse and translate this information into meaningful knowledge. In the field of medical research on neurodegenerative diseases, all of this can be found in neuGRID - a digital infrastructure which pairs the collection and archiving of large amounts of imaging data with computationally intensive data analyses through Grid computing.


neuGRID - a Grid-based e-infrastructure for data archiving/communication and computationally intensive applications in the medical sciences - is a collaborative R&D project funded by the European Commission within the Seventh Framework Programme, backed with 2,8 million euro in financial support. neuGRID is led by Dr. Giovanni B. Frisoni, Vice Scientific Director of the Scientific Institute "San Giovanni di Dio Fatebenefratelli" in Brescia, Northern Italy, and Director of the Neuroimaging Laboratory.

The NEUGRID partners, who kick-started the project in 2008, are introducing a novel and user-friendly Grid-based research e-Infrastructure that will give neuroscientists in Europe the support they need to tackle degenerative brain disorders including Alzheimer's Disease. In a nutshell, neuroscientists could use the Grid-based research e-Infrastructure to identify neurodegenerative disease markers through the analysis of 3D magnetic resonance brain images thanks to a supply of distributed medical and Grid services.

"Grid-computing", Dr. Frisoni stated, "can help to create and improve tools facilitating drug development for chronic brain diseases. As far as the Alzheimer's Disease is concerned, there is still no biomarker showing whether a drug works or not. Grid computing can aim at developing markers which are based on images, such as the progressive cortical shrinkage during aging. This will allow to monitor the progression of the disease and thus the effectiveness of a drug, significantly reducing the number of patients to be followed, on a shorter period of time."

Since neuGRID works on medical data of real patients, special attention has been paid to data protection and privacy: the development of ethical standards and data protection protocols in accordance with European emerging standards for Grids in health sector falls within the project activities too.

The team is also diligently working on developing a mid-layer of services between user-facing and Grid-facing services to help expand the infrastructure to various algorithm pipelines. The researchers are performing tests and validating the prototype infrastructure too.

The NEUGRID consortium has already participated in a number of dissemination workshops, conferences and congresses, and meetings. While the project draws to a close in January 2011, the neuGRID partners said they plan to develop the services for other medical applications as well. neuGRID brings together researchers and industry experts from France, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

neuGRID's ultimate purpose is to supply clinical research centres on Alzheimer's Disease with access to three key elements for modern research in this medical field: powerful computational resources, sophisticated algorithms which are necessary to process brain images, and access to huge databases which are currently being collected worldwide. In addition, it will be possible to expand neuGRID functionalities to other medical applications.

Further information on the activities of the neuGRID consortium, documentation and explanatory videos can be found on the neuGRID project website.

Source: neuGRID

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