December 2007

Global Alliance of IT Giants Powers Cancer Research

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Situation
The Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR) founded in 1971 is made up of a worldwide network of nine branches in seven countries dedicated to basic and clinical research. Each branch of LICR has its own area of specialization. The Melbourne Branch in Victoria, Australia, concentrates on tumor biology; specifically, for colon cancer.

“LICR researchers are working to understand the biology of tumors within the gut and how protein markers secreted by tumors can be used as an early detection mechanism for colon cancer,” says Dr Robert Moritz, Manager of the Proteomics Facility at LICR and Director of the Australian Proteomics Computational Facility. “Being able to detect tumors before they become life threatening would significantly increase survival rates for those with this type of cancer.”

Currently, common tests for colon cancer, such as the colonoscopy, are invasive and expensive and have their own inherent health risks, making them unsuitable for population-based screening. In contrast, if LICR researchers develop a test for the early detection of colon cancer using protein markers, future tests for this type of cancer could be as simple as having a blood test.

The Melbourne Branch has more than 20 proteomics researchers in various laboratories, each working on different aspects of proteomics. They use mass spectrometers to generate the data used to identify protein markers. These instruments can generate between 10,000 and 15,000 mass spectra per hour, which then needs to be converted into protein identifications. Smaller lab-based computers found it hard to keep up with the large amounts of dataflow.

Solution
In 2005, LICR asked Microsoft Global Alliance Partner, Dell, to propose a solution that would deliver greater computing power to researchers working on multiple projects.
The solution needed to meet the following criteria:

  • Increased processing power of all computers in the cluster.
    Easy-to-use interface for researchers.
  • Simple, centralized management of a large cluster system.
  • Compatibility with algorithms used for proteomics research.
  • Scalability for future growth
  • Cost competitiveness.
  • Ability to integrate with existing technology infrastructure.
  • Ability for researchers to share results throughout LICR's global network.

Dell suggested building a high-performance computing cluster (HPCC) that would pool each laboratory's resources to create a system with far greater processing power that could be accessed remotely by all researchers. Following which, Dell joined forces with Microsoft and Global Alliance Partner, Intel, to carry out the project.

LICR joined the Microsoft

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