Communications and Marketing

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 (, 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. At DKFZ, more than 1,300 scientists investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and endeavor to find new strategies to prevent people from getting cancer. They develop novel approaches to make tumor diagnosis more precise and treatment of cancer patients more successful. DKFZ’s Cancer Information Service (KID) provides individual answers to all questions about cancer for patients, the general public, and health care professionals. Jointly with partners from Heidelberg University Hospital, DKFZ runs the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) located in Heidelberg and Dresden, and, also in Heidelberg, the Hopp Children’s Cancer Center (KiTZ). In the German Cancer Consortium (DKTK), one of six German Centers for Health Research, DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partnering sites. Combining excellent university hospitals with high-profile research at a Helmholtz Center at the NCT and DKTK sites is an important contribution to the endeavor of translating promising approaches from cancer research into the clinic in order to improve the chances of cancer patients. DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centers, with ninety percent of its funding coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the remaining ten percent from the State of Baden-Württemberg.


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