Thursday, June 18, 2015

POWER8-Linux fighting against Cancer

By Rich Ptak and Bill Moran

In the US alone, over a million new cancer cases occur each year according to the American Cancer Society. The discovery of a ‘silver bullet’ to defeat cancer appears unlikely any time soon. Instead, new combinations of technologies are being used in the battle.  This blog describes how OpenPOWER technologies, POWER8, Linux and CAPI, are being used by the University of Toronto’s Computer Engineering department to improve the accuracy, speed, and convenience of cancer treatment.

Many cancers are tumors located deep inside the human body; head, neck and out-of-sight tumors provide special challenges. Treatment with current methodologies, chemo-, radiation or surgery, can involve serious, unpleasant side effects. They are difficult to control precisely, potentially damaging healthy tissue or missing some of the cancer.

An alternative is Photodynamic Therapy (PDT). PDT systemically administers a light-sensitive drug; the simulation help to chose the best placement of multiple light sources to activate the drug and destroy the tumor.This greatly reduces the risk of damage to other organs and body parts. But, some tumors still make precise location difficult and risky. Running a series of Monte Carlo simulations[1] to determine the most effective light-source placement locations can solve this.

However, such simulations are CPU intensive; running them in a distant data center is inconvenient, expensive and impractical. Having a dozen or more[2] x86 processors in an operating room is not feasible due to excess power requirements and heat generation. A University of Toronto research project is using OpenPOWER technology to address the problem.

Using a Power8 system with the CAPI FPGA interface, calculations are more than 64x faster (than with an x86 system[3]), or equivalently can use many fewer nodes. Users get more simulations to evaluate more treatment protocols, leading to safer and more effective treatment. POWER8’s smaller physical footprint and higher power efficiency (48x more throughput per Watt) mean it fits in the operating room without special cooling or electrical requirements.

OpenPOWER Systems, CAPI, FPGA, Open standards and IBM IP accelerated progress and makes a clinical version viable. The University of Toronto core team, Jeff Cassidy, Lothar Lilge and Vaughn Betz, continue the development. Partnering with industry and researchers including Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI), Buffalo, NY, they anticipate early trials beginning in 2016. Find out more here. OpenPOWER will play a key role in deployment. We wish them all success in their work.

[1] Using the Full Monte software package for Monte Carlo simulations.
[2]  Estimated number of x86 processors needed for a workable version.
[3] CAPI allows a specialized FPGA to be closely integrated into the Power8 CPU. This accelerates the simulation.