May 30, 2013

Throwing Cancer on the BonFIRE

Ian Armas Foster

People in developed countries are living longer. This isn’t exactly shocking news, but it is a harbinger of greater reported instances of disease, especially cancer. However, mortality rates from cancer are in decline.

What makes that possible is increasingly personalized radiation treatments that harm fewer non-infected cells than ever before. Cloud environments featuring more elasticity help along that process by providing hospitals a cost-efficient avenue to run simulations on particular radiation treatments, as highlighted by the presentation below by BonFIRE.

The biggest key to developing personalized radiation treatments is finding the right angles at which to launch the high-energy beams that would destroy the cancerous cells. Before, this was often done in manners that harm a significant portion of healthy cells, weakening the immune system and leaving the person vulnerable to other disease and infection.

With enough computing power, however, facilities can run simulations that do well in approximating the effect of rays at given angles. “Thanks to the elasticity of cloud environments,” the video noted, “it is possible to control the execution of the treatment simulation to add more virtual machines to the cluster if necessary and return the result at the time initially set by the radiophysicist.” Returning results of simulations promptly and then executing them is critical to eliminating cancer in the early stages.

This infrastructure has been made possible by the eIMRT project, which identifies and calls upon multiple cloud providers and their clusters for each project a single hospital would need to run. Of particular importance here is the ability to run simulations even when certain providers are experiencing bottlenecks or outright failures at their respective data centers.

“There is always the risk that the physical infrastructure of the cloud provider fails,” as was noted in the presentation “as happened in the summer of 2012 with two main players in the world cloud market. If the hospital must have the results on a given day, eIMRT offers a fault tolerance solution using multiple cloud providers so that if one fails, the simulation proceeds normally.”

Cloud computing, in this case through BonFIRE and the eIMRT project, could be a step in providing access to computing services that small but vital institutions like hospitals need to keep humans healthy.

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