Researchers Use Video Game Processors to Improve Cancer Patient Treatment

May 2, 2014 - GamePolitics Staff

Medical physicists at UT Southwestern Medical Center are using graphics processors (GPUs) typically found in high end graphics cards and video game consoles to promote research that is aimed at improving patient care. Dr. Steve Jiang, UT Southwestern’s new Director of the Division of Medical Physics and Engineering, and Professor and Vice Chairman of Radiation Oncology are researching new ways to apply the processing speed of GPUs for medical applications like treating cancer patients more efficiently.

One application being worked on aims to reduce the time required to calculate the radiation dose delivered to a tumor during proton radiotherapy. The faster video processors can reduce the time of the most complex calculation method from 70 hours to just 10 seconds.

"That’s an astonishing improvement in processing speed," says Dr. Jiang said. "We should really thank video gamers. The popularity of video games has resulted in a tool that is very beneficial for scientific computing in medicine. The quicker results mean increased convenience for patients and physicians, and translate in a significant way to better patient care."

Radiotherapy treatments to fight cancer can often take weeks, during which time the patient’s anatomy or the tumor can change. Dr. Jiang’s calculation allows for more accurate treatment plans based on daily calculations that are adapted to changes in the patient’s daily geometry (such as weight, size and shape of the tumor), as well as the healthy tissue around the tumor. With the faster processor, doctors can make these calculations before each treatment, takes place instead of re-using older data. These new calculations can make the treatments more exact, sparing surrounding healthy tissue.

"The main idea is to change the way we treat patients," Dr. Jiang said. "If someone has a cancer, you want to treat the disease immediately and precisely. The current slower calculations require patients to wait for about a week to receive the first radiation treatment after consulting with doctors."

Source: UT South Western


Comments

Re: Researchers Use Video Game Processors to Improve Cancer ...

GPUs are actually quite useful for scientists of all stripes. Basically, CPUs these days are limited to a maximum processing speed each by a combination of speed-of-light limits and overheating limits. You can't get individual cores to process faster, but you can get more cores to work alongside each other at the same speed. So, if you can split a problem up into independent parts, you can solve it faster by distributing the workload.

The trick with GPUs is, they're designed to do exactly this. Rather than calculate a single problem at a time (ie. Calculate shading of this patch of the screen, then this, then this...), they're designed to calculate a ton of problems simultaneously. Graphical displays are quite amenable to being split up into different puzzles, so GPUs have long since focused on distributing the workload. It hasn't been until recently, when CPU speeds have maxed out, but problems are getting more complicated, that scientists have started to look at GPUs for a solution.

 
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