Grid computing tackles Alzheimer's
Technological advances have taken the medical world to a whole new level, as digital infrastructure and state-of-the-art software offer doctors and patients the right tools for diagnosis and treatment. Helping to advance the technology further is the NEUGRID ('A grid-based e-infrastructure for data archiving/communication and computationally intensive applications in the medical sciences') project, which is backed with EUR 2.8 million in financial support under the 'Information and communication technologies' (ICT) Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
The NEUGRID partners, who kick-started the project in 2008, are introducing a novel and user-friendly grid-based research e-Infrastructure that will give neuroscientists in Europe the support they need to tackle degenerative brain disorders including Alzheimer's disease.
In a nutshell, neuroscientists could use the grid-based research e-Infrastructure to identify neurodegenerative disease markers through the analysis of 3D (three-dimensional) magnetic resonance brain images thanks to a supply of distributed medical and grid services.
Experts say grid-computing is finding a solid niche in the medical world. 'Grid-computing can help to create and improve tools facilitating drug development for chronic brain diseases,' explained NEUGRID project leader Dr Giovanni B. Frisoni, who is the Vice Scientific Director of the San Giovanni di Dio Fatebenefratelli institute in Brescia, Italy, and head of the Neuroimaging Laboratory.
Commenting on the treatment Alzheimer's disease, a progressive form of dementia that destroys brain cells and triggers severe memory loss and problems with thinking and behaviour, Dr Frisoni said: 'There is still no biomarker showing whether a drug works or not. Grid-computing can aim at developing markers which are based on images, such as the progressive cortical shrinking during ageing. This will allow [people] to monitor the progression of the disease and thus the effectiveness of a drug, significantly reducing the number of patients to be followed, on a shorter period of time.'
It should be noted that the NEUGRID partners are ensuring data protection and the privacy of patients whose medical information is being used throughout the project. The partners say they are also maintaining ethical standards and data protection protocols in accordance with European emerging standards for grids in the health sector.
In the next 18 months, the partners will give clinical research institutes access to 3 crucial elements for their research into Alzheimer's disease. These institutes will also gain access to large databases worldwide.
The team is also diligently working on developing a mid-layer of services between user-facing and grid-facing services to help expand the infrastructure to various algorithm pipelines. The researchers are performing tests and validating the prototype infrastructure too.
The NEUGRID consortium has already participated in a number of dissemination workshops, conferences and congresses, and meetings. While the project draws to a close in January 2011, the NEUGRID partners say they plan to develop the services for other medical applications as well. NEUGRID brings together researchers and industry experts from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.
Data Source Provider: NEUGRID project
Document Reference: Based on information from the NEUGRID project
Subject Index: Coordination, Cooperation; Information and communication technology applications ; Information Processing, Information Systems; Innovation, Technology Transfer; Life Sciences; Medicine, Health; Scientific Research