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U Michigan Researchers Use SiCortex HPC Systems to Study Heart Arrhythmia

The University of Michigan's Center for Arrhythmia Research has begun using SiCortex HPC systems to conduct research aimed at predicting and preventing fibrillation, ultimately saving lives. Fibrillation is the medical term for an irregular electrical activity in the heart that precludes the blood pumping and which can lead to stroke and heart failure.

The University of Michigan project, led by Omer Berenfeld and funded in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, and the Heart Rhythm Society, runs mathematical modeling applications on two SiCortex systems, one that serves as the mainframe system and the other as an auxiliary development unit.

Historically, fibrillation was thought to be caused by random electrical disturbances in the heart. New research, however, shows that the electrical activity during fibrillation isn't completely random. For example, scientists have found that the rate of fibrillation changes according to body size. The University of Michigan team will study computer simulations generated by the SiCortex systems to evaluate the many combinations of variables that can cause changes.

"We are studying the conditions of numerous variables that can interrupt the heart's regular rhythm and lead to an arrhythmia," said Berenfeld, the assistant professor of Internal Medicine and Biomedical Engineering at the Center for Arrhythmia Research. "Through sophisticated mathematical modeling and parallel computations running on the SiCortex systems, we can reproduce the heart's electrical activity to pinpoint more precisely where and how abnormal rhythms originate within the heart muscle. Understanding the origin is an important step in determining the underlying cause of the problem."

The computer simulations are studied together with electrical data collected from various modalities, including fluorescence imaging and electrodes threaded into the heart's chambers. To accurately simulate and analyze the fine characteristics of voltage and motion of ions that penetrate all the way to the molecular level, the researchers needed a system with fast and efficient connectivity. The SiCortex systems, which are gaining a reputation for being energy-efficient and having small space requirements, consist of processors linked together by a very fast communication fabric, making them well suited to run complex simulations.

"In addition to the performance considerations, the system needed to fit in a small computer room since the research lab lacks space big enough to house a large HPC system," said Berenfeld. "As medical researchers first and HPC users second, we needed a system that we could easily configure into an existing space, plug in, and start using. The SiCortex HPC systems also offered the highest performance per dollar compared to competing systems."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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