WHO WE ARE
As researchers address increasingly complex problems, they’re relying on advanced computing (AC) or supercomputers to help crunch the numbers. ORION launched the Advanced Computing Transforming Innovation in Ontario (ACTION) project to assess the needs, opportunities and economic impact of AC in Ontario as a key step toward improving access and awareness of this important resource. One Toronto researcher and his team from the Hospital for Sick Children prove that advanced computing can lead to groundbreaking results more quickly, earning their team a 2013 ORION Leadership Award.
Supercomputing a cure
the brain, possessed a single genetic-letter misprint, dramatically
Growing up in Lebanon, Dr. Berge Minassian
Without access to this type of computing power, these processes
always dreamed of becoming a scientist. In his current roles as Principal Researcher and Neurologist at the Hospital for Sick Children and Associate Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto, he spends about
reducing its function and producing the Parkinson’s-like disorder. —which took mere hours—may have involved months of manual calculation.
Based on this discovery, the team began testing treatment
options and found success in just the second standard drug they administered. The children responded within days.
“If we treated them very young, they responded almost completely,” Minassian explains. “It was magical. These kids, it’s like one
70% to 80% of his time conducting
day they’re frozen and cannot move and they’re just either
data-intensive research projects focused
and start running.”
on genetics and neurology. “It is a career that requires a huge amount of effort and
sacrifice,” says Dr. Minassian. “Once in a while you will find
something really useful and compelling … there is no better feeling than when you do make that discovery.”
The life-changing impact that these discoveries can have is
sitting or lying, and as soon as we treated them, they get up
It is considered an international first that a new disease has
been recognized, its cause identified and an effective treatment
administered within such a short period of time. Through the use
of advanced computing, Dr. Minassian’s team achieved all of this in just two years.
By allowing computers to carry out data-heavy processes,
something Dr. Minassian and his team know from experience.
researchers are able to focus on what that data is telling them
through the ORION network, they gave children living with a
to innovate and to discover ways to improve our quality of life
Utilizing the power of genomics and advanced computing
and work on the solution. This allows teams like Dr. Minassian’s
debilitating Parkinson’s-like disease new hope for their future.
far faster than ever before.
After discovering this rare disease affecting the children of a
Ontario’s researchers are fortunate to have a network of
advanced computing through the Centre for Applied Genomics
types of projects. Though the ACTION project, we’re creating
gene, involved in the production of dopamine and serotonin in
opportunities that can yield massive benefits for our society.
Bedouin family in Pakistan, they used genome sequencing and
advanced computing centres built specifically to support these
to quickly pinpoint a common genetic mutation. The mutated
a plan for Ontario to address researchers’ needs, providing
ORION SNAPSHOT 2013