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Melbourne’s new supercomputer to help fight glaucoma

Melbourne’s new supercomputer to help fight glaucoma


10 August 2010

Hundreds of thousands of people suffering from glaucoma will have access to more accurate information about their deteriorating sight, thanks to Melbourne’s new IBM Blue Gene supercomputer, the most powerful life sciences supercomputer in the southern hemisphere.

Capable of one trillion calculations per second, the supercomputer will be used by researchers at the $100 million Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (VLSCI) at the University of Melbourne, to help drive new breakthroughs in the understanding of human diseases such as glaucoma, cancer and infectious diseases.

Associate Professor Andrew Turpin from the University of Melbourne, who will be one of the supercomputer’s first users, said its large scale processing capacity will advance his research into improving vision testing for early glaucoma detection.

“One of the main tools in our development of faster, more accurate eye tests is computer simulation of tests that assess the whole field of vision.

“Currently these take days on a standard computer, but with Blue Gene we can do them in minutes, allowing even more complex approaches to be evaluated.

“Current clinical tests of the visual field are highly variable, and it can take several years to reliably determine if vision is deteriorating due to glaucoma. Our novel combination of data from both images of the optic nerve, and our new visual field testing strategies, will hopefully markedly reduce this time,” he said.

Dr Allison McKendrick from the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences at the University of Melbourne said the benefits of this knowledge, and better vision testing will have a great impact on the hundreds of thousands of Australians with, or at risk of, glaucoma.

“Glaucoma is the second leading cause of irreversible vision loss in older Australians. Improving the accuracy of detection and monitoring of vision loss greatly enhances a clinician’s ability to treat this disease,” she says.

Victorian Premier John Brumby said the new supercomputer, along with the planned National Broadband Network hub, are part of the reason why Melbourne is regarded as the ICT capital of Australia.
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