Biotechnology Focus

Biotechnology Focus September 2013

Biotechnology Focus is Canada's leading authority on Canada's life science news. From biopharma and healthcare to ag-bio and clean tech, our readership includes life science professionals, C-level executives and researchers.

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Across canada But what if the results could be available in near real-time? Daley and his research team are working on just that, and only six months into their research, have a working prototype. Daley's research brings together scientists from neuroimaging, neuroscience and HPC, and will result in faster, more accurate diagnoses, better outcomes, and optimal use of expensive scanner time. Dynamically adapted brain scanning allows the test to be stopped, tuned and adjusted while it is underway. Neural functional connectivity networks have shown potential as diagnostic indicators for several brain disorders, including autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, and ADHD. "The tools IBM is providing allow us to take these colossal data sets and make sense of them in an automated way," Daley notes. "In neuroscience, we can often generate terabytes of data from images detailing both the structure and the function of the brain. The new computational resources will allow us to automate that analysis so we can boil that down into simple models." Understanding biological processes through imaging technology and nanophotonic devices Imagine having the ability to see some of the smallest parts of us – our cells, tissues, and molecules – up close, and to be able to monitor them over time. How could this capability inform our understanding of dis- ease? Dr. Lora Ramunno, Canada Research Chair in Computational Nanophotonics and associate professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Ottawa, and her research team are using Canada's fastest supercomputer, an IBM Blue Gene/Q, to find out. The team is using the supercomputer to develop powerful imaging technologies and nanophotonic devices with multiple applications including the potential to improve the early detection and treatment of diseases. The team, which includes university research chair in Surface Plasmon Photonics, Pierre Berini, and an IBM Canada researcher, is able to capture real-time images of live cells and tissues as well as detect trace molecules using cutting-edge nanophotonic devices. Having access to this level of detail will help them better understand how diseases affect us at the cellular level, leading not only to the improved detection of disease, but also to improved treatment. "The ability to create models of this type of device has been limited by the amount of computer power and the software available until now." Ramunno notes. "The Blue Gene/Q will allow us to apply our computational programs, which can carry out the intensive Big Data calculations that are critical to simulating nanoscale imaging and nanophotonic device applications." Health Predicting Leukemia Inhibitors Have you ever wondered how drugs that treat cancers like leukemia are created? In many cases it starts by examining molecular behaviour. Chematria, a University of Toronto Bioinformatics start-up, is a great example of a company that makes software to help pharmaceutical companies determine which molecules can become medicines. Abraham Heifets, CEO of Chematria Inc. and his research team are using a big data approach to molecular activity prediction. In partnership with Dr. Aaron Schimmer at the University of Toronto and UHN Princess Margaret Hospital, Chematria is using the the SOSCIP HPC platform to help guide the selection of molecules for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia. The results will enable faster drug development for a fraction of the price of wet-lab experiments. Common Signatures in Lung Cancer Canadian cancer statistics (2012) indicate that lung cancer accounts for almost 14 per cent of all cancer cases in Canada, leading to the highest number of deaths (27 per cent) of all cancers. To create therapeutic solutions for the treatment of individual patients, complex and computationally intensive analysis of the patient's biomarkers, for example, gene signatures, are required. Dr. Igor Jurisica, professor, Departments of Computer Science and Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto and Tier I Canada Research Chair in Integrative Cancer Informatics, and his team are designing an algorithm to identify common signatures in lung cancer patients, advancing diagnosis, prognosis and treatment capabilities. Their findings will provide insights into how computational tasks as a whole can be optimized for other cancers and diseases, and could also potentially be used to re-purpose existing FDA-approved drugs for other treatments. In total, the SOSCIP project portfolio includes close to 40 projects. Other health projects are looking at the treatment of head and neck cancers, the diagnosis and treatment of chromosome/cell-related disorders such as lymphoma, predicting the health status of premature children, as well as the prediction, control and treatment of pandemics, such as radiation exposure or the spread of an infectious disease. The results of these research projects hold much potential – and not only for the significant advancements they will make in their respective fields. The results of this research also hold promise for the creation of skills and innovation in Canada. The power of the HPC tools being used is enabling researchers to tackle big data and grand challenges in new ways. This means, as a result of the academic/industry partnership within each project, the potential for an increase in homegrown software and engineering skills; more rapid adoption of innovative HPC technologies within Canadian businesses; and accelerated commercialization of Canadian-led research and development. The consortium members include the IBM Canada Research and Development Centre as well as seven Ontario universities, led by the University of Toronto and Western University. Other participants include McMaster University, Queen's University, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, University of Ottawa, and University of Waterloo. To see this story online visit http://biotechnologyfocus. ca/?p=8682 September 2013 BIOTECHNOLOGY FOCUS 25

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