A supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) recently piloted a laser to perform prostate surgery on a dog. The operation was done in Houston without the intervention of a human surgeon while the Lonestar supercomputer, a Dell Linux Cluster with 5,840 processors, was in Austin. According to TACC, 'the procedure was the culmination of three years of research and development into the algorithms, computer codes, imaging technology, and cyberinfrastructure.' Please note that even if the intervention was a success, the dog ultimately died. But the researchers are confident that their approach could lead to specific treatments in five to ten years for humans. In fact, they think this is the future of surgery, bringing engineering tools into medicine. Fascinating research!!! But read more...
The image above shows the "schematic of the peer to peer communication architecture used to control the laser treatment process. Feedback control is achieved through the continual interaction of the data, compute, and visualization modules." (Credit: David Fuentes, ICES)
Even if the HPCwire is informative, a recent TACC news release provides more details. As explained David Fuentes, a post-doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES), and the central developer of the project, "We had a fifteen minute window in which a million things had to go right for this treatment to be successful. There had to be no flaw, no silly bug, everything had to go perfectly. And if that wasn't complicated enough, you add the complexity of a living animal. This is a pretty formidable problem."
And J. Tinsley Oden, director of ICES and principal investigator of the project, added, "It's been an extremely challenging problem that's met one unresolved open problem after another, solved it and pushed forward. And now we have a system that's working."
But how a supercomputer can be used as a surgeon? "The laser cancer treatment project uses the massive parallel processing power of supercomputers like Lonestar to perform real-time, patient-specific surgery remotely, in a way that responds to data-intensive monitoring methods. Using precise lasers, state-of-the-art thermal imaging technology, and computational methods that synthesize complex information in a fraction of a second, dynamic, data-driven laser treatments are being pursued as a minimally invasive alternative to the standard treatment of cancer. 'We're basically bringing engineering tools into medicine,' Oden said. 'We're making surgery an engineering or mathematical process.'"
Please read this long news release for additional details on the process and the treatment summarized by this quote. "The treatment itself is broken into four stages: 1) Lonestar instructs the laser to heat the domain with a non-damaging calibration pulse; 2) the thermal MRI acquires baseline images of the heating and cooling of the patient’s tissue for model calibration; 3) Lonestar inputs this patient-specific information and recomputes the optimal power profile for the rest of the treatments; and 4) surgery begins, with remote visualizations and evolving predictions continuing throughout the procedure."
About the communications between Austin and Houston, which were essential for the success of the operation, Fuentes said: "This is a laser treatment where the surgery is ongoing in Houston on the canine, and the laser is being controlled by Lonestar in Austin for the entire duration of the treatment. The data is orchestrated so every time a new set of thermal images is sent from Houston to Austin, the power control for the next five seconds is sent from Austin to Houston, and it's done that way for the duration of the treatment."
For more information, please visit the
Dynamic Data Driven Application Systems (DDDAS) website. Here are two papers of interest. The first one, "Nanoshell-Mediated Laser Surgery Simulation for Prostate Cancer Treatment" (PDF format, 19 pages, 2.33 MB) has been published in 2007 in Engineering with Computers, a Springer journal. The second document, "A Data Driven Application System for Laser Treatment of Cancer" (PDF format, 18 pages, 3.68 MB) was presented in July 2007 at the 9th National Congress on Computational Mechanics held in San Francisco, California. The above image was extracted from this document.
Sources: Michael Feldman, HPCwire, May 27, 2008; and various websites
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