CSIRO supercomputer supports heart disease research

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute has employed the CSIRO's supercomputer and computer gaming technology to help diagnose patients suffering from heart rhythm disease.

Doctors at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute (VCCRI) have employed computer gaming technology to help better diagnose patients suffering from a heart rhythm disease.

Using the same technology that powers video games, researchers have built a virtual heart that simulates heartbeats. Scientists then screened the recorded heartbeats and searched for abnormalities.

Dr Adam Hill, VCCRI computational cardiologist and senior author on the study, said the findings are a step closer to understanding rhythm disturbances in the heart.

"This research is hugely exciting. We were able to identify why some patients have abnormal ECG signals, and how a person's genetic background can affect the severity of their disease," he said.

The analysis of the simulation was conducted on the CSIRO's Bragg GPU-based supercomputer. According to the Institute, this enabled researchers to take advantage of the supercomputer's ability to render complex graphics in the computer games and multi-task on hundreds of computing cores.

In the end, the process took 10 days, instead of the 21 years it would have taken if the same job was conducted using a standard desktop PC.

"In the past, we were limited because we didn't have enough computational grunt to do an effective job," Hill said.

Hill added that while taking a computational approach to research is not particularly new, it is a different application for those in biology research.

"We're probably fairly latecomers. Our colleagues in geology and physics have been using this computational approach for years," he said, noting that it will be inevitable that "more and more people will use it for other types of research".

Scientists at the VCCRI will use the findings to develop automatic computerised tools for diagnosing heart rhythm disorders.

Hill said he hopes the discovery will ultimately mean better diagnosis and much better treatment for those who suffer from heart conditions.

"We hope this will help doctors read ECGs more accurately, which will mean faster, more accurate diagnosis. By understanding why the same disease affects people differently, the right treatment can be given to the right patients," he said.