Lonestar, a supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) recently performed a laser cancer surgery on a dog without the intervention of a surgeon. The operation was done in Houston without the intervention of a human surgeon while the Lonestar supercomputer, a Dell Linux Cluster with 5,840 processors, was in Austin.
The treatment was developed collaboratively by computational experts from UT-Austin, cyberinfrastructure specialists and systems from TACC, and leading technologists from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Using precise lasers, state-of-the-art thermal imaging technology, and advanced computational methods, dynamic, data-driven treatments are being pursued as a minimally invasive alternative to the standard treatment of cancer.
The procedure was the culmination of three years of research and development into the algorithms, computer codes, imaging technology, and cyberinfrastructure that would allow a supercomputer in Austin to perform a minimally invasive laser treatment on a canine in Houston, without the intervention of a surgeon. The scientists took a collective breath.
“We had a fifteen minute window in which a million things had to go right for this treatment to be successful,” explained David Fuentes, a post-doctoral student at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES), and the central developer of the project. “There had to be no flaw, no silly bug, everything had to go perfectly. And if that wasn’t complicated enough, you add the complexity of a living animal. This is a pretty formidable problem.”
The technology is just in the early experimental stage, but it looks promising. It’s a long process before these protocols are made robust and have wide-spread use in human subjects. But this is a step along a path that will be followed.
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