Melbourne University gets supercomputer to study diseases

IBM's Blue Gene/P will be used by up to 10,000 scientists in the medical and life science fields

Up to 10,000 scientists will team up with computer experts and a supercomputer at the University of Melbourne to study human diseases.

The research will see Victorian medical and life science researchers work alongside IBM computer technicians to study areas including neuroscience, clinical genomics, and structural biology.

The Victorian Life Sciences Computational Initiative aims to improve medical diagnostics, drug discovery and design by pairing computer biology experts with researchers from universities, government, or commercial organisations.

IBM's Blue Gene/P, the latest in the vendor's supercomputer series, will be based on the University of Melbourne campus and will support the lion's share of the research work.

University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis said the supercomputer is a "dramatic expansion of its capacity to carry out world-class life sciences research".

The initiative is the largest of six IBM life science projects, which are also run in Ireland, China (which has two projects), Taiwan and India.

Victorian Premier John Brumby said the initiative will boost the state's reputation as a leader in life science research.

“The initiative will provide Victoria’s researchers with the necessary tools to solve some of the biggest challenges facing our health system and impacting our quality of life”, Brumby said.

The research work will include:

  • Medical Imaging and Neuroscience: High performance computers are used to analyse images from the devices such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Positron Emission Topography and the synchrotron.
  • Clinical Genomics: The identification of combinations of genes implicated in disease and the ability to predict susceptibility to disease and treatment outcome from an individual’s genome and medical history.
  • Structural Biology: Understanding the structure and shape of biological macromolecules, fundamental to pharmaceutical discovery.
  • Integrated Systems Biology: Understanding and modelling the dynamic behaviour of complex systems, from genes, proteins, cells, tissues and organs to organisms.

The announcement follows a government funding boost last year to the university as part of efforts to foster closer collaboration between Australia and China.

As part of the Australia-China Special Fund for Scientific and Technological Cooperation — which is part of the International Science Linkages program — the university received $79,732 for joint research with the South West Jiaotong University on a "Z4 sequence design for wireless communications".

Earlier last year the university jointly developed a 96 million pixel, 18-square-metre LCD screen that allowed Australian doctors, scientists and academia to share research using locally developed technology.

The OzIPortal was developed with the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) as a realistic cinema for observation of complex surgery, underwater exploration using submersible robots, and the use of supercomputers and scientific equipment.

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