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Communication Barrier Is Broken

High-res medical images now can be swapped among doctors and specialists thanks to a new computing system.
By Eric Mankin
Computer scientist Stephan Erberich

Using a new grid computing system developed by the Information Sciences Institute, radiologists, physicians and pediatric oncologists at 40 hospitals across North America are now exchanging high-resolution medical images.

One hoped-for result will be that the doctors of young cancer patients will be able to change course after discovering whose treatment is not working. Another potential result: quicker monitoring of ongoing clinical research and diagnostic practice.

“We have broken the medical image communication barrier,” said Stephan Erberich, a computer scientist who is director of functional imaging and biomedical informatics at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and a faculty member of both the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Erberich is demonstrating the Globus MEDICUS system at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago through Nov. 30.

The Globus project makes pediatric cancer researchers and the medical imaging profession at large the latest in the rapidly growing number of scientific and professional communities using Globus open-source grid collaboration software developed at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering's Information Sciences Institute and Argonne National Laboratories (ANL).

Carl Kesselman, an ISI research scientist, and Ann Chevernak, director of the center for grid technologies at ISI and a research associate professor of computer science in the USC Viterbi School, worked with Erberich on the creation of MEDICUS. They built the system based upon earlier work by the Digital Imaging and Communication in Media (DICOM) standards committee.

DICOM created a uniform electronic format for medical images, one that allows the whole range of commercial imaging devices X-ray, MRI and CT to display and manage images from any other.

The MEDICUS project began when Erberich approached ISI grid experts Kesselman and Chervenak, asking them “to translate DICOM into Grid,” as Erberich described it.

In creating key Grid components for MEDICUS, Chervenak and Kesselman worked with Manasee Bhandekar, a computer engineer at the USC Alfred E. Mann Institute. ISI researchers Robert Schuler, Shishir Bharathi and Gaurang Mehta also made significant contributions.

Erberich developed the DICOM to Grid interface and led the inter-disciplinary collaboration between the engineering and clinical teams, working with Childrens Hospital radiologist-in-chief and Chairman Marvin D. Nelson.

The system has been in place since September, and as described by Nelson, ‘it’s totally transparent. Each facility is now connected to the Grid using its own interface you only have to one interface at the hospital and that serves the whole hospital, reusing the hospital’s capital investment in DICOM visualization devices.”

One dramatic change in practice will be the ease of review. Researchers can look at observations made anywhere on the grid without leaving their offices.

“We store the images here in the Data Center,” Erberich said, “but the people who have been assigned to review images can review them from virtually anywhere.”

Other advantages include:

greatly increased ease of radiological consultation and study. Any radiologist practicing on rare or unusual conditions can now only see the small fraction of the total cases that present in one place. Now, “he could sit in Boston and potentially review every single case, from anywhere in the country,” Seeger said.
imaging research. Scientists studying new techniques will be able to exchange samples instantly. And “we can develop expertise not just for reading but also processing images,” Erberich said.
drug development. New techniques depend on imaging experimental animals, typically mice, using bioluminescent markers. Analysis of large bodies of such images requires great computing power. Grid techniques can both share images and the computing power necessary to extract their meaning.

The Globus Alliance is a community of organizations and individuals developing fundamental technologies behind the Grid, which lets people securely share computing power, databases, instruments and other online tools securely across corporate, institutional and geographic boundaries without sacrificing local autonomy.

The Globus MEDICUS project was supported by the Children’s Oncology Group Phase-I Consortium, NIH (grant UO1-BA97452) and the NANT Cancer Foundation.