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A major step towards digital oncology

No. 03c2 | 23/01/2019 | by Koh

New AI infrastructure for cancer research facilitates more complex mathematical models

© Fotolia

Methods of artificial intelligence (AI) such as deep learning using neural networks are gaining increasing importance in health research and personalized medicine. In oncology, new experimental and diagnostic methods such as genome sequencing and whole-body imaging by magnetic resonance imaging are also generating growing amounts of data.

Using AI to analyze these data makes it possible to identify unknown patterns and unexpected links. This enables scientists to make crucial contributions to cancer research and, thus, to assist physicians in diagnosis and treatment decisions. However, the data as well as the neural networks used nowadays have reached a complexity that is no longer manageable using conventional computer technology.

To tackle this challenge, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) has now started operating a new infrastructure. It is based on two extremely powerful supercomputers which use graphics processing units for deep learning. For this purpose, each of these supercomputers has 16 times the memory of previous technologies and has a computing capacity corresponding to 600 classic processing units. This enables scientists to use mathematical models that are many times more complex than previous ones.

The DKFZ is the first German institution in the health sector to use this technology. Thus, it also runs the largest installation of this kind in the area of research and education throughout Germany.

A large number of departments and working groups at the DKFZ and the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) will use the new server infrastructure for innovative research programs jointly with their collaboration partners. Goals are, for example, to develop the next generation of medical image and genome analyzing technologies as well as to advance computer-assisted surgery. Within the newly founded Helmholtz Information & Data Science School for Health (www.hidss4health.de), the installation also offers new possibilities in the education and training of young scientists.

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institution in Germany. More than 1,300 scientists at the DKFZ investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and search for new strategies to prevent people from developing cancer. They are developing new methods to diagnose tumors more precisely and treat cancer patients more successfully. The DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides patients, interested citizens and experts with individual answers to all questions on cancer.

Jointly with partners from the university hospitals, the DKFZ operates the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg and Dresden, and the Hopp Children's Tumour Center KiTZ in Heidelberg. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of the six German Centers for Health Research, the DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partner locations. NCT and DKTK sites combine excellent university medicine with the high-profile research of the DKFZ. They contribute to the endeavor of transferring promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improving the chances of cancer patients.

The DKFZ is 90 percent financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and 10 percent by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.

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