IBM Research collaborates with Australian Institutions to push boundaries of medical research

Victorian State Government and IBM Establish life sciences research collaboratory at the University of Melbourne

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MELBOURNE, Australia—IBM announced in mid-February the establishment of a research collaboratory in Melbourne, Australia, where scientists from the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (VLSCI) at the University of Melbourne and the IBM Research Computational Biology Center at the T.J. Watson Research Center will use high performance computing—including IBM's Blue Gene supercomputer—to study human disease.

The collaboratory is expected to be fully operational in 2010 and will be located on the campus of the University of Melbourne. The project is a joint venture by the University of Melbourne and IBM through the VLSCI, which was made possible through the Victorian State Government in Australia. In addition to the University of Melbourne, the collaboratory will also work with researchers from leading institutions participating in the VLSCI.

This will be IBM's sixth collaboratory, with the other global locations being in Dublin, Ireland; Shenyang, China; Shanghai, China; Taipei, Taiwan and Hyderbad, India. However, this is IBM's first life sciences research collaboratory dedicated to studying human disease, according to Holli Haswell, of the External Relations department of IBM's Global Healthcare and Life Sciences division.

The need for better medical research has become a necessity, Haswell notes and technology like IBM's can facilitate such research, whether through the collaboratories or other efforts (such as through its T.J. Watson Research Center—see additional ddn story links at the end of this article). She cites figures from the Partnership for Safe Medicines that research and development spending in the United States for pharmaceutical and biotech has now reached just over $65 billion, but only four truly innovative major pharmaceutical products have been delivered to market recently.

At these collaboratories, IBM researchers co-locate with university, government and/or commercial partner and share skills, assets and resources to achieve a common research goal. In the case of this newest locations, it will enable collaboration between the 10,000 world-class life sciences and medical researchers in the Melbourne area, and IBM's computational biology experts.

"At IBM, we believe that giving our researchers the opportunity to go outside of the walls of our labs and collaborate with other institutions will further the reach and impact of our research," says Tilak Agerwala, vice president of IBM Research. "As the largest IBM Research collaboration in life sciences, the Victorian Life Sciences Computational Initiative holds great potential for driving new breakthroughs in the understanding of human disease and translating that knowledge into improved medical care, and gives IBM Research the opportunity to expand the impact of our Computational Biology Center."

IBM's partnership with leading institutions in Melbourne Australia will accelerate drug discovery and design and other health outcomes, such as advancement of medical diagnostics and predicting susceptibility to disease based on an individual's genome and history, Haswell notes.

Planned projects include:
  • Medical imaging and neuroscience. High-performance computers will be used to analyze images from the devices such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission topography (PET) and the synchrotron.
  • Clinical genomics. The identification of combinations of genes implicated in disease and the ability to predict susceptibility to disease and treatment outcome from an individual's genome and medical history.
  • Structural biology. The understanding the structure and shape of biological macromolecules, fundamental to pharmaceutical discovery.
  • Integrated systems biology. The understanding and modeling the dynamic behavior of complex systems, from genes, proteins, cells, tissues and organs to organisms.
"The Victorian Government is taking action to support our world-class researchers and to invest in innovative projects that secure the state's economy," says Glyn Davis, vice chancellor and principal of the University of Melbourne. "The outcome of this partnership will be a significant strengthening of the research capabilities of Victoria's life sciences researchers and a dramatic expansion of their capacity to carry out world-class life sciences research right here in Melbourne."

IBM's Blue Gene/P supercomputer will serve as the high performance computing foundation for much of the VLSCI and collaboratory's work. IBM officials note that Blue Gene's speed and scalability have enabled business and science to address a wide range of complex problems and make more informed decisions—not just in the life sciences, but also in astronomy, climate, energy and many other areas.

Additional ddn stories on IBM's recent life sciences-related efforts:

Big Blue goes after holy grail

Peta-flogging HIV

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