January 22, 2008 - Researchers at the Universite de Montreal have run the largest mathematical simulation of a heart, a two billion element model, enabling discoveries of the electrical triggers of the various kinds of heart disease that could lead to earlier diagnosis and new treatments.
Run on a high-performance computing system from SGI, the new Universite de Montreal model is up to 1,000 times more detailed than previous models.
Until recently, the largest heart models in the world had at most a few million elements. Over the last nine months, Dr. Mark Potse and Dr. Alain Vinet, both affiliated with the Research Center of Sacre-Coeur Hospital and the Biomedical Engineering department at Universite de Montreal, began running 100 to 120 million-point models as part of their heart disease research on an SGI Altix 4700 system.
In late October, Dr. Potse and Vinet ran a custom electrocardiography (ECG) code, using the entire SGI Altix system and 1.2TB of shared memory. The ECG code made the leap from 120 million points to two billion.
Dr. Potse simulated 5 milliseconds of activation in a tissue block that included some properties of a real heart, such as fiber running in different directions. The simulation solved a system of 2 billion equations a dozen times. The test took two hours, which Dr. Potse describes as short for achieving the desired results. A full heartbeat, he says, would take two weeks, and they cannot claim use of the entire machine for that length of time right now.
With disease such as Brugada syndrome and Long-QT syndrome, which can cause sudden death in young, otherwise healthy people, there are typical changes in the ECG that allow doctors to diagnose these diseases. In order to understand what the mechanisms of the particular disease are, the heart must be modeled with enormous detail. Without the use of computer models it can be hard to track the effects of a heart disease on the ECG.
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