NIH Awards $33.3 Million For Advanced Medical Research Technology - InformationWeek

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NIH Awards $33.3 Million For Advanced Medical Research Technology

The U.S. government grants will help researchers explore the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes, cancer, autism, and other medical conditions.

The National Center for Research Resources, a part of the National Institutes of Health, announced Wednesday it has awarded 20 grants totaling $33.3 million to universities, hospitals, and other institutions for their purchase of high-powered computers and other advanced technologies to help researchers explore new ways of diagnosing and treating an array of medical ailments.

Among the 20 awards were eight $2 million grants, the maximum allowed under the NCRR's "High-End Instrumentation" grant program. Each grant had a value of a least $750,000.

While the grants cover a number of advanced technologies, ranging from high-powered computers to special microscopes and imaging equipment, the common thread is their use to help researchers uncover mysteries in the diagnosis and treatment of medical ailments and diseases including diabetes, asthma, cancer, Alzheimer's, AIDS, and autism. The equipment will be used to analyze images, DNA, biomarkers, proteins, and other biomedical data.

The $2 million awards include a grant for the purchase by Johns Hopkins University of a powerful new computer that medical researchers will use to speed up computations related to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and brain and heart diseases.

The new computer will be housed at the Institute of Computational Medicine located on John Hopkins' Homewood campus in Baltimore. The one-time grant covers the purchase of a device that the university expects to be a 256 dual quad-core node cluster computer with 1-petabyte of storage.

The vendor providing the computer to Johns Hopkins hasn't been chosen yet, says Raimond Winslow, director of the Institute of Computational Medicine. IBM, Dell, and Penguin Computing are among the vendors vying for this sale, he says. The university expects to receive the computer by next June. The computer will greatly speed up the extremely complex calculations that are involved with testing existing theories about diseases. "These calculations will be done much quicker," leading to faster discoveries about illnesses and treatments, he says.

The computer will help Johns Hopkins researchers model the various pathways of diseases in cell proteins, whole cells, parts of organs like the brain and heart, or entire organs, he said.

Dr. Michael Marron, director of the division of biomedical technology at NCRR says the grants have the common theme of being awarded for "very sophisticated, large, expensive, advanced, shared technologies," whether they be computers, electron microscopes, or other equipment that help researchers "find a cause and cure" for diseases.

The award to Johns Hopkins is for a sophisticated computer cluster to tackle very complex calculations. "The most famous super cluster is Google plex," although he says that cluster of computing is much more expensive than the system being purchased by Johns Hopkins for medical research.

"These kinds of clustered systems have been around in business for a while," he says. "It's only recently that medical researchers are able to exploit their power for biomedical modeling and simulation," he says.

In addition to the eight $20 million grants, there were several awards that came close to the $2 million mark, including a $1.9 million grant to Northwestern University in Evanston for the purchase of a "high-powered (300 kV) field emission cryo-electron microscope, which is a powerful new tool with increased imaging abilities, [and] will help reveal molecular and cellular targets for new therapies for multiple brain disorders, cancers, and infectious diseases," according to a NCRR statement.

The other awardees included:

Brigham & Women's Hospital; Florida State University; Immune Disease Institute; Indiana University Bloomington; Northwest University (Evanston); Northwest University (Evanston and Chicago); State University of New York at Stony Brook; Translational Genomics Research Institute; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Minnesota; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; University of Pennsylvania; University of Pittsburgh; University of Virginia; University of Wisconsin -- Madison; Vanderbilt University; Washington State University; and Washington University in St. Louis.

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