GRID TO OFFER MORE COMPUTING FOR BIOMEDICINE IN TEXAS

By Nicole Hemsoth

November 15, 2004

Texas biomedical researchers will soon be able to use the best computing resources in Texas, according to an agreement signed between the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas (UT Southwestern) and the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas (UT).

The agreement is a first step in uniting the University of Texas System's world-class medical researchers with the first-class computational and visualization resources that are also part of the system but not located at the medical branches. Grid computing makes the marriage possible. “This agreement will help the biomedical research components in the UT System to use the resources and expertise at UT Austin to solve important medical research problems,” said Juan M. Sanchez, vice president for research at UT.

“We are looking forward to collaborating in a number of important areas of research,” said Kirk A. Kirksey, vice president for information resources at UT Southwestern. “Among the primary objectives will be computation leading to new biomedicines, understanding complex biological systems at many levels, and the sharing and improvement of bioinformatics databases.”

Under the agreement, TACC will give UT Southwestern researchers direct access to high-end computing resources at TACC. These include Lonestar, the most powerful supercomputer for academic research in Texas and one of the most powerful systems in the world, and Maverick, a first-of-a-kind large-shared-memory visualization system. TACC will also train or consult with UT Southwestern researchers to help them use the high-end systems most efficiently. TACC's 2 petabytes of offline storage combined with a 50 terabyte storage area network will enable the construction, sharing, and federation of large-scale databases of biomedical and imaging information.

All of the TACC resources will be available over high-speed network connections that will ultimately integrate UT Southwestern researchers and their resources with a national computational infrastructure because TACC is one of nine partners in the TeraGrid, the National Science Foundation's major nationwide research grid. “This partnership with UT Southwestern will enable world-class biomedical researchers and advanced computing specialists to work together towards discoveries that improve the quality of human life,” said Jay Boisseau, director of TACC.

UT Southwestern And The Importance Of Biocomputing

UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas is one of the world's premier medical schools, with clinical and laboratory research centers and a major research hospital. The distinguished faculty includes four active Nobel laureates, 15 members of the National Academy of Sciences, and 10 Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators. One of this year's winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Linda Buck of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, is a graduate of UT Southwestern.

UT Southwestern has recently extended its activities in biocomputing. An NIH grant made in October to Northrop Grumman Corporation's information technology division includes funding for two biocomputing efforts at UT Southwestern, focused on infectious diseases and immune disorders, respectively. “We are well aware that more can be done on all fronts,” Kirksey said, “and the agreement to work with TACC opens up a world of opportunities in bioinformatics and biomedical computation.”

Computation plays a role on all scales in biological research, from the atomic and molecular to the tissue and organ. “Data on gene sequences, protein structures, metabolic pathways and cellular signaling networks are available now in such quantity that we can study the dynamics of these complex systems rigorously and quantitatively. This means computing. What we learn is fascinating itself and is also the source of invention,” said Elliott M. Ross, professor of Pharmacology at UT Southwestern. Ross is John P. Perkins Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Science and holds the Greer Garson and E. E. Fogelson Distinguished Chair in Medical Research. “Our group and many others here will be able to tackle important but previously unapproachable problems using TACC expertise and resources, and solve previously difficult problems faster and more easily.”

TACC and UT Southwestern will explore the use of grid computing technologies used in the NSF TeraGrid and technologies developed jointly with IBM for the campus-wide UT Grid project. “We will leverage grid technologies for remote and collaborative visualization, implement web portals for biosciences applications, and enable UT Southwestern researchers to launch high-performance computational jobs of all kinds to be run at TACC, directly from their desktop systems,” said Boisseau. “TACC seeks to enable scientific discovery in all disciplines through advanced computing, and we are particularly passionate about advances that improve human health and welfare.”

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