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Digital Mammography on The Grid

Medical imaging is one of the biggest growth areas for deploying both grid and on-demand technologies. Take the University of Pennsylvania's National Digital Mammography Archive (NDMA).

The project, which involves medical imaging company i3 and NDMA, launched three years ago with IBM at the same time Big Blue laid out its On Demand computing strategy.

Scott Cleare, an executive with the Medical Imaging Channel Segment of IBM's Life Sciences Group, said the project collects mammography images and related breast data from doctors, hospitals and radiology centers around the United States. The idea is to help researchers identify and target potential links to breast cancer by providing access to analytical databases and reporting systems, he added.

When it began, the NDMA project counted four hospitals contributing mammography images. Today, some 24 hospitals are accessing the database of more than 1 million digital mammography images, which provides access to records that help about 300 doctors and researchers in their diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

Now, that archive of some 350,000 mammography records is poised to expand even more with a portal offering that lets women use the database as a secure, digital "locker" where they can store their own mammography images and other medical records.

For $9.95 a year (down from the usual fee of $14.95 a year), women can rent space on the grid, in a hosted, secure environment provided by IBM on the MyNDMA.com portal space offering.

They can store their mammography tests there, as well as fax information to their space securely. Whether they have been diagnosed with breast cancer or have a mammography with a clean bill of health, the portal is positioned as a space to store their records and help them keep track of critical medical imaging history.

These records are usually stored locally -- either in film or digital format, said Derek Danois, president and CEO of i3.

"That made it impossible to have on-demand access from another hospital or radiology center. As a result, diagnostics tests and additional mammograms may be required whenever a woman visits a new doctor."

This way, he added, women can store their personal mammography images and, in the process, proactively monitor their personal health over time. "If a woman's been diagnosed with breast cancer, she typically might see several different doctors through the course of her treatment," said Danois. Now, "they can easily access records when visiting a new doctor or obtaining a second opinion."

If they want their data used in ongoing breast cancer research, that's their call. They can opt-in or opt-out when they sign up.

The servers started out with IBM's Intel based, 8-way x-Series configured for a 12-terabyte grid system. Today, it runs as a 32 node, 64-CPU system capable of handling 100 Terabytes of data. By next year, that will have expanded to a 64 node, 128 CPU, 1000 Terabyte grid system, IBM said.

"Every bit of data that comes into our system -- images, reports, demographic information -- everything is cataloged, indexed and made available on demand to hospitals and radiology centers across the country using IBM's technology," Danois added.

"The reality is that the images and data submitted by women through MyNDMA will help to establish a nationwide 'best practice' benchmark for digital mammography and diagnosis."