Hospitals and medical facilities everywhere continue to struggle to treat victims of breast cancer, hindered by the difficulty and expense of tracking and sharing case data, particularly traditional film-based X-rays. A group working out of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia is combining high-powered computing with radiology to make treating breast cancer faster and more effective.
The foundation of an intricate heterogeneous grid-computing system called the National Digital Mammogram Archive (NDMA) has been laid through the efforts of the University of Pennsylvania, IBM, and Advanced Computing Technologies (ACT) at BWXT Y-12, a group at Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The NDMA allows North American hospitals to quickly and securely upload, download, and analyze enormous digital mammogram X-ray files, regardless of where they were performed.
Built around IBM's Globus Toolkit, an open grid-computing standard, using IBM eServers with DB2 Universal Database and exploiting the blazing content-delivery capabilities of Internet 2, the NDMA went live this year and now connects four facilities: hospitals at the University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Sunnybrook and Women's College Hospital in Toronto. In the not-too-distant future, the highly scalable system could connect some 2,000 medical facilities to an enormous, invaluable collection of breast cancer records, resulting in countless opportunities for treating the disease.
The use of grid-computing addresses "the trick of making use of digital images, indexing them, and delivering them to hospital locations on demand," says Dr. Robert Hollebeek, director of the National Scalable Cluster Lab at the University of Pennsylvania and chief architect of the NDMA. "That's more of an on-demand content-delivery problem than an on-demand computing problem."
Devising a means of storing enormous quantities of data was one of the most significant challenges. An average digital mammogram case ranges from 100MB to 200MB, and thus far, 500 cases are in the archive. In the long run, the NDMA anticipates having to collect 28 petabytes one petabyte equals 1,024 terabytes of data per year. To that end, the grid is built on a three-tier architecture. Each participating medical facility has a portal, or "wall plug," of two IBM eServer xSeries systems; one serves as a temporary repository for the digital data, and the other is a link to the grid.
Data is collected via the mammogram-recording instruments with the push of a button. Once the data is loaded into the portal, it is transmitted to a metropolitan hub, an IBM eServer Cluster 1600 Unix system, for storage. When the NDMA is fully deployed, data from several metropolitan hubs will be funneled to a high-capacity regional hub.
With the system in place, doctors can retrieve, in mere seconds, any records in the system via a secure Web site. This allows a doctor to view a patient's past and current X-rays in moments, expediting diagnosis, and, if necessary, treatment.
Without digital technology and this type of system, a doctor has to track down the X-rays he or she seeks, contact the facility at which they're stored, secure permission to view them, and arrange for them to be mailed. "All that can be greatly facilitated by a digital mechanism, especially as we transition to digital mammogram machines," according to NDMA�s Hollebeek.