Dept. of Energy and Weill Family Foundation: Using Supercomputers to Break Neuro Disease 'Logjam'

Samara Rosenfeld

The partnership looks to develop AI-based research breakthroughs to better understand brain function.

A public-private partnership between the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) and the Weill Family Foundation aims to leverage DOE’s supercomputers and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to advance biomedical and public health research opportunities — focusing first on the brain.

“Today marks the beginning of a collaboration that will fuel the acceleration of utilizing (AI) in neuroscience research to launch a new era in the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disease,” said Sandy Weill, founder of the Weill Family Foundation, at Monday’s announcement.

The partnership also includes Lawrence Livermore, Lawrence Berkeley and Argonne National laboratories and will focus on AI, neurological disorders and related subjects.

The signed Memorandum of Understanding looks to foster collaborations to develop AI-based research breakthroughs in basic science and clinical and translational research.

Examples include better understanding how the brain functions and developing methods for preventing, treating and repairing damage caused by brain diseases and disorders.

The collaboration “will have a profound impact on the lives of patients and families worldwide,” the memorandum said.

“(AI) has the power to literally change the world we live in by tackling some of the biggest problems facing humanity — from improving our environment, to advancing our understanding of the cosmos; from increasing cybersecurity to improving crop production,” said Rick Perry, U.S. secretary of energy.

The memorandum will “advance groundbreaking AI research and development in health sciences that will enhance our overall security and improve our quality of life,” Perry added.

A key aspect to this partnership is the technological power that the DOE has.

The DOE national laboratories have some of the most significant computing resources available, including some of the fastest supercomputers in the world, the agency claims.

With the Argonne National Laboratory, Intel and Cray, the agency will have an exascale supercomputer, potentially as soon as 2022, Weill told CNBC in a video interview.

The supercomputers will “really break the logjam, especially as it relates to neurodegenerative diseases,” Weill added.

Supercomputers converge AI and have high-performance computing, which could address some of the world’s biggest challenges.

“Being able to take those data and get answers to questions that before you just did not have the broadband or bandwidth to get those answers, today we are approaching that,” Perry said in the video interview.

The exascale supercomputers that will come on board in the next 18 to 24 months could be 50 to 100 times faster than the computers seen today, Perry said.

“The improvement in healthcare, particularly in the brain science side, is going to be monumental and really world-changing,” Perry added.

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