$2.9 million computer to track single cancer cells

Media releases

The Victorian government announced today that they will contribute $1.45 million towards a $2.9 million high performance computer facility at the Australian Synchrotron.

Announcing the investment at the eResearch Australasia 2008 conference in Melbourne today, Minister for Innovation Gavin Jennings said he was delighted to be building on the state’s investment in the Australian Synchrotron and the life sciences supercomputer to further boost Victoria’s and Australia’s capacity for groundbreaking R&D.

“This new state-of-the-art facility will keep Australian scientists at the forefront of x-ray imaging development, attract the best scientists to Victoria and provide a unique platform for accelerating transformational scientific discovery,” Mr Jennings said.

The computer, with 500 times the power of an average home computer, will allow medical researchers to follow the movement of individual stem cells and cancer cells in the human body, and allow protein chemists to see the protein structures they are analysing.

“Scientists will be able to use the Imaging and Medical Therapy (IMT) beamline to make their observations with ten times the resolution of the best CT scans available today. But that will also create more than 1,000 times the data. Our new computer facility will turn the data into 3D images in just a few minutes,” says Principal Scientist Daniel Häusermann.

“The combination of the two facilities will create a unique and very efficient resource for researchers,” says Synchrotron Director Rob Lamb. “It will dramatically increase the quality and volume of research that can be done on the beamline.”

One proposed application of this powerful new form of computer tomography includes tracing the movements of gold nanoparticle-labelled stem cells after injection into the spines of multiple sclerosis patients. “This treatment shows great promise in alleviating the symptoms of the disease, but we don’t know what the cells are doing,” says Daniel.

“In practical terms, this means that researchers won’t waste time analysing bad data as they will be able to see the results almost as soon as they collect the data,” says Richard Farnsworth, Head of Controls and IT at the Australian Synchrotron.

“The computer cluster will consist of up to 512 processing cores in parallel, providing about six teraflops at peak capacity.”

The HPC facility will be housed at the Australian Synchrotron where it can be used by all of the beamlines in addition to the IMT beamline, for applications including protein crystallography.

In addition it will be connected to the Imaging Consortium Facility being established by Monash University and CSIRO next door, and made available to national and international networks during times it is not being utilised by synchrotron scientists, allowing 24-7 use.

Farnsworth said the facility will complement the proposed $100 million Victorian supercomputer. The HPC will, for example, deliver rapid graphic processing of protein structures while the supercomputer will generate models of new proteins and how they might interact.

The HPC facility will be jointly funded by the Victorian Government, Monash University, CSIRO and the Australian Synchrotron.