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    St. Jude ranked among top 500 supercomputer centers

    Memphis, Tennessee, December 22, 2003

    St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has joined the ranks of world-class supercomputer users around the world with the installation of an IBM computer system that can perform more than 600 billion operations per second.

    The supercomputer, an IBM eServer® BladeCenter™, which is equivalent to 280 servers working at once, puts St. Jude in 251st place among the top 500 supercomputer users in the world, according to Clayton W. Naeve, Ph.D., chief research information officer and director of the St. Jude Hartwell Center for Bioinformatics and Biotechnology.

    St. Jude is the only children’s hospital to make the list, which is compiled twice annually by supercomputing experts from the University of Mannheim, Germany, the University of Tennessee, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (www.top500.org).

    “St. Jude is now in the same arena as major computer centers operated by governments, major corporations, communications corporations and physics research centers around the world,” Naeve said.

    St. Jude will use this enormous computing capacity to accelerate medical research to find preventions, cures and new treatment options for catastrophic diseases in children, such as cancers, acquired and inherited immunodeficiencies and genetic disorders.

    The supercomputer, a Linux cluster, permits many projects to be completed quickly at the same time, or one very large project to be completed quickly, according to Pat Ford, the supercomputer facility’s operations director.

    “Many of the important questions being asked by our researchers require enormous computing power to handle hundreds of thousands of pieces of data or to generate images of important biological molecules to study how they work in the body,” Ford said. “The supercomputer will significantly speed research designed to save lives by reducing the time it takes for our scientists to move from data collection to discovery of important new findings.”

    “The Hartwell Center is dedicated to research that will benefit children, and in the long run, the research will benefit all people who suffer from some of the same catastrophic diseases that threaten children around the world,” Naeve said. “In that sense, although this is a St. Jude resource, it will produce knowledge that will be a resource for the entire world.”

    "Our goal is to help St. Jude use information technology to quicken the pace of clinical research into children's diseases," said James Coffin, Ph.D., vice president, IBM Life Sciences. "The selection of the right technology was very important to St. Jude because of the complexity of the projects and the volume of data that researchers are dealing with in their investigations. We are very pleased that they chose IBM's BladeCenter for their computing needs."

    One of the St. Jude projects uses the new computing power to study the motion of enzyme molecules in order to determine how these proteins work, and how mutations in them change or destroy their ability to do their jobs, Naeve said. Enzymes are large proteins that control the speed of specific biochemical reactions in the body. Many diseases are caused by malfunctioning enzymes.

    “Shape is everything to a protein,” Naeve said. “Mutations that change a protein’s shape can derail the protein’s function and disrupt the normal function of the cell. And the shape of a potential drug molecule determines whether it will interact properly with its target in the body.” 

    A second project that has benefited from the supercomputer is the study of the flexibility of a tumor suppressor protein called p27, and how the flexibility affects the protein’s function. The supercomputer cut computation time from 200 hours to just 20.

    Another project that is benefiting from the supercomputer is a study that screens various molecules to determine if they might be effective drugs against certain diseases.

    “This is an extremely exciting time to be working at St. Jude,” Ford said. “The more experience we gain with our supercomputer, the more effectively we’ll be able to use it, and the more rapidly we’ll find cures for catastrophic diseases.”

    St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
    St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is internationally recognized for its pioneering work in finding cures and saving children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Founded by late entertainer Danny Thomas and based in Memphis, Tennessee, St. Jude freely shares its discoveries with scientific and medical communities around the world. No family ever pays for treatments not covered by insurance, and families without insurance are never asked to pay. St. Jude is financially supported by ALSAC, its fundraising organization.