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CNR: Alamanacco della Scienza


N. 7 - 18 apr 2012
ISSN 2037-4801

International info   a cura di Cecilia Migali


A grid-based ‘Google‘ to fight neurological disease  

An international team working on the Neugrid project has networked hundreds of computers to help find treatments for neurological disorders. The infrastructure, set up with the support of Eur 2.8 million in funding from the European Commission, was developed over three years by researchers in seven countries. Their aim, primarily, was to give neuroscientists the ability to quickly and efficiently analyse 'Magnetic resonance imaging' (Mri) scans of the brains of patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease. But their work has also helped open the door to the use of grid computing for research into other neurological disorders, and many other areas of medicine.

"Neugrid was launched to address a very real need. Neurology departments in most hospitals do not have quick and easy access to sophisticated Mri analysis resources. They would have to send researchers to other labs every time they needed to process a scan. So we thought, why not bring the resources to the researchers rather than sending the researchers to the resources?", explains Giovanni Frisoni, a neurologist and the deputy scientific director of Irccs Fatebenefratelli, the Italian National Centre for Alzheimer's and Mental Diseases, in Brescia.

The Neugrid team, led by David Manset from MaatG in France and Richard McClatchey from the University of the West of England in Bristol, laid the foundations for the grid infrastructure, starting with five distributed nodes of 100 cores (Cpus) each, interconnected with grid middleware and accessible via the internet with an easy-to-use web browser interface. To test the infrastructure, the team used datasets of images from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative in the United States, the largest public database of Mri scans of patients with Alzheimer's disease and a lesser condition termed 'Mild cognitive impairment'.

The team call their system the 'Google for brain imaging'. "In Neugrid we have been able to complete the largest computational challenge ever attempted in neuroscience: we extracted 6,500 Mri scans of patients with different degrees of cognitive impairment and analysed them in two weeks", Dr. Frisoni, the lead researcher on the project, says, "on an ordinary computer it would have taken five years!".

Though the main focus of all these new projects is on using grid computing for neuroscience, Dr. Frisoni emphasises that the same infrastructure, architecture and technology could be used to enable new research - and new, more efficient diagnostic tools - in other fields of medicine. "We are helping to lay the foundations for a new paradigm in grid-enabled medical research", he says.

Neugrid received research funding under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

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