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UK HPC simulates proton CT images

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A team of researchers based at The University of Birmingham is using HPC to simulate proton Computed Tomography (CT) images- that will help to facilitate treatment of cancer patients in the UK.

Generally healthcare relies on X-rays to image the body’s composition and healthy tissue location before treatment, this research is hoping to simulate use of protons, rather than X-rays, to image the body and in doing so improve the efficacy of the final treatment.

Dr Tony Price, PRaVDA research fellow, said: ‘The research will give us a better understanding of how a proton beam interacts with the human body, ultimately improving the accuracy of proton therapy. The HPC service at The University of Birmingham is essential for us to complete our research, as it gives us the necessary capacity to simulate and record the necessary number of histories to create an image.  It took us only three days to run a simulation of 180 million protons which would usually take 5,400 hours without the cluster.’

Proton therapy targets tumours very precisely using a proton beam and can cause less damage to surrounding tissue than conventional radiotherapy – for this reason it can be a beneficial treatment for children.

The research is being conducted through the PRaVDA Consortium, a three-year project funded by the Wellcome Trust and led by researchers at the University of Lincoln. The team of researchers are using The University of Birmingham’s centrally funded High Performance Computing (HPC) service, BlueBEAR, to simulate the use of protons for CT imaging.

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. It provides more than £700 million a year to support bright minds in science, the humanities and the social sciences, as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine.

The BlueBEAR HPC service in use by the PRaVDA Consortium was designed, built and integrated in 2013 by HPC, data management, storage and analytics provider OCF. The server clusters uses Lenovo System x iDataPlex with Intel Sandy Bridge processors, delivering a theoretical peak performance of 21.4 TFlops.

The team hopes to simulate 1000 million protons per image over the course of the project, which can be simulated around 97 per cent faster than on a conventional desktop computer. A test simulation of 180 million protons, which would usually take 5400 hours without the cluster, has already been delivered in 72 hours using BlueBEAR.