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Dell’s ‘Wiener’ Supercomputer to pioneer new Alzheimer’s breakthrough

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The supercomputer has been largely kept under wraps until Dell announced one of the first computational projects for the HPC system.

In 2017, the University of Queensland (UQ) department of molecular biology, neuroscience and translational research embarked on a journey to build “Wiener”, the Dell Technologies high-performance computer (HPC).

The supercomputer has been largely kept under wraps, until Tuesday that is, when the computing giant announced one of the first computational projects for the HPC system. And it’s a doozy.

According to a press release from the company, the project may enable a non-invasive disease-modifying strategy for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Given the systems high number of processing cores, it is well suited to processing massive amounts of computational tasks in parallel, such as data visualisation and machine learning – tasks that would be too intensive for other systems. This means it can be used for modelling possible treatments for some of the most debilitating illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Using an analysis technique called Finite Element Method (FEM), UQ’s neuroscience research institute The Queensland Brain Institute is modelling the behaviour of ultrasound. This allows them to calculate what happens to each element of the brain when an ultrasound is passed through the skull.

“It is hoped that ultrasound can be used to temporarily allow direct delivery of therapeutic drugs to the brain, something not currently possible due to the presence of a blood-brain barrier, and activate cells that can digest the plaques that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease,” reads the release.

While this is only the beginning, it is far from the only project Weiner will be working on. The supercomputer is in demand across many departments at the university and opens up the possibility of vital research in areas such as climate modelling, psychological testing and learning, and disease identification.

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“It’s become a whole ecosystem,” said Chief Technology Officer at the Research Computing Centre at UQ, Jake Carroll. “Wiener has become a plethora of massive machine learning and deep learning capabilities in the organisation. It’s the focal point of AI computing infrastructure at the University of Queensland.”

In other projects, UQ‘s School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering is working on developing new digital pathology techniques for faster blood samples results, while another machine learning algorithm will be able to diagnose the presence of skin cancer from histology slides with the accuracy of a trained pathologist.

UQ joins the likes of the Australian National University (ANU) in its ownership of this rare equipment. In July, ANU received a new supercomputer from Fujitsu that is 10-times faster than its predecessor. While the system is in place, it is not expected to go live until November.