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Scientists Use TACC Supercomputers to Find Link Between Cancer and Alzheimer's

TACC supercomputing

So, remember when TACC (Texas Advanced Computing Center) built the Stampede supercomputer using VERY preferred pricing from Intel for using Intel Xeon Phi cards back in 2012? Well, that Stampede supercomputer in conjunction with the Lonestar Supercomputer at TACC are responsible for some pretty interesting research. The TACC at the University of Texas, Austin houses many supercomputers, but the two that were utilized for this project were the Stampede and Lonestar. The team of scientists from Houston’s Methodist Research Institute (HMRI) found that Alzheimer’s disease and cancer share a pathway in gene transcription, a fundamental process of cell production and growth. They published their findings in the December 2013’th issue of the open access journal Scientific Reports by the Nature Publishing Group.

The Stampede supercomputer

The Stampede supercomputer, Image Credit: TACC

They used the Stampede and Lonestar supercomputers at TACC to analyze and compare data collected from thousands of genes in order to narrow their search for a common signaling pathway between the two diseases. The two systems are part of TACC’s Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment, dubbed XSEDE, which is a single virtual system that scientists use to share computing resources and much more. The research was made possible thanks to a donation from the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation which has donated tens of millions of dollars to education, health and environmental research. This includes the establishment of BRAIN center at the Houston Methodist Research Institute, which was involved with the discovery of this link between cancer and Alzheimer’s. The TT and WF Chao foundation were primarily funded by Ting Tsung Chao’s cration of Westlake Chemical [NYSE:WLK] which has revenues exceeding $3.8 billion annually and a market cap of nearly $9 billion. Family members of the Chao family are worth billions of dollars since Ting Tsung’s passing in 2008. Even so, the foundation continues to be funded by the family’s wealth and continues to do good for mankind. The research was also supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, which currently only has a $30 billion budget per year as part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Lonestar supercomputer

The Lonestar supercomputer, Image Credit: TACC

Stephen Wong, a bioengineer and medical researcher at Houston’s Methodist Research Institute said that his study was able to find a new link between Alzheimer’s disease and glioblastoma multiform, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. He said, “This is the first time people have found that at the molecular mechanism level there are linkages between the two diseases.” 

These findings contrast a 2013 study of public health in Italy and a 2012 study of public health in Taiwan that showed an inverse association between Alzheimer’s disease with cancer, making those findings possibly less relevant. Wong said, “No one understands why this link is there, in a biological sense. And that’s the reason we did this study. I think we are among the first to study it this way. Once you identify the mechanism, the particular pathway, we can use that information to design a new therapeutic strategy.”

More about these groudbreaking scientific research can be found on the TACC’s website that has a much more detailed explanation of how their research methodology was assisted by the Stampede and Lonestar supercomputers at the TACC.