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Doctors are Using Supercomputers to Treat Heart Disease

The K computer can process 10 petaflops of data in one second. Sounds cool enough, but what does that actually mean? If each of the 7-billion people on Earth performed one computation per second, 24-hours per day, it would take them 17 days to finish the same amount of work. Yeah, holy sh**.

It’s no surprise then, that the team at Japan’s Supercomputational Life Sciences (SCLS) is turning to this mechanical ‘whiz kid’ to solve some of medicine’s big mysteries. Their latest venture, the Hierarchical Integrated Simulation for Predictive Medicine (HISPM), features a statistical model that predicts how heart disease will progress over time.

heart

“We’ve broken the heart into 170,000 different tetrahedrons,” they explain, “and modeled their most likely action using knowledge from physics, engineering, medicine, and physiology.”

In doing this, the simulator is able to base each contraction and relaxation it creates on the statistical behavior of every single molecule within the organ. “The result is a highly-realistic human heart whose behavior strictly follows known physical and physiological principles,” says SCLS. “This can help doctors choose a treatment option for heart disease patients by accurately predicting its outcome.”

By coupling the model with a computation that predicts blood flow and pressure, SCLS is able to examine the process through which blood, which normally flows smoothly, coagulates as a result of disease – an ability that could, in theory, allow cardiothoracic surgeons to stop blockage before it happens. “We also hope to clarify the relationship between abnormalities at the micro level and heart disease,” they say.

The HISPM project is an incredible example of collaboration in action, with an astounding 13 universities working together to advance it. In Japanese, 10 “peta,” or 10 quadrillion, is expressed as one “Kei,” which gives the supercomputer its name. It’s certainly fitting that a program with so many organizations, working together as one, would rely on K for their work.

“In the past, computers have been used to study individual organs such as the brain, nerves, muscles, heart, and blood vessels. With the K computer, it becomes possible to study those systems not in isolation, but together,” they say. “We are collaborating to create a new system of medical science.”

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