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Big Blue to Help Keep Tabs on Breast Cancer

Armonk, NY's IBM Corp. a leader in developing supercomputers that run with enhanced power and speed, Wednesday revealed a new computing grid geared to improve breast cancer diagnosis and screening.

Big Blue is currently working with the University of Pennsylvania on this project, which is essentially a large distributed computer that delivers computing resources as a service over the Internet. Ideally, the grid would allow thousands of hospitals to store mammograms in digital form, as well as provide analytical tools that help physicians diagnose individual cases and identify cancer "clusters" in the population.

It will also give medical personnel rapid access to patient records and help cut costs by reducing the call for expensive film X-rays. Hospitals would be connected to the grid via secure Internet portals that allow physicians to upload, download and analyze digitized X-ray data.

Dr. Robert Hollebeek, director of the university's National Scalable Cluster Lab, said this could save medical personnel considerable time.

"Once a patient's mammograms are loaded into the system, they can be evaluated with powerful tools that isolate abnormalities very quickly by comparing current X-rays with those from previous years," Hollebeek said. "Traditional film X-rays of individual patients are often scattered among various medical facilities, making them hard to find when needed. This Grid will help ensure that all of a patient's vital data is provided to authorized physicians very quickly, efficiently and securely."

Funded by the National Library of Medicine, the University of Pennsylvania Grid, now connects collegiate hospitals such as the University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina, and the Sunnybrook and Women's College Hospital in Toronto.

The machine is built with a three-tier architecture that relies on IBM's eServer and open protocols from Globus. Each hospital which chooses to employ the grid is equipped with a portal consisting of two IBM eServer xSeries systems. One xSeries machine serves as a repository for the digital data; the other is a link to the Internet.

When the medical data is loaded into the portal, it shoots to a metropolitan hub in the form of an IBM eServer Cluster 1600 UNIX system. And when the grid is completely deployed, data from several hubs will be funneled to a powerful regional hub, which is now being powered with an IBM eServer 1300 Linux system.

IBM has been busy in the grid computing arena in the past year; it was tabbed to help build the North Carolina Bioinformatics Grid earlier this month, while this past August it agreed to build what could potentially be the world's most powerful computing grid, forged with an interconnected series of Linux clusters capable of processing 13.6 trillion calculations per second. This "Distributed Terascale Facility" (DTF) would allow scientists around the country to share computing resources.