The Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa uses advanced computer modelling to drive its research efforts. How could it accelerate the process to solve humanity’s most pressing genetic disorders?
The institute deployed IBM Power Systems servers to enable super-precise modelling of cell biology, using latest-generation IBM POWER9™ processors to deliver accelerated research results.
15x fasterprocessing times, accelerating the search for effective treatments
Enableshighly complex protein interaction simulations, helping scientists break new ground
Millionsof molecular interactions simulated, enabling a wider research scope
Business challenge story
Understanding genetic diseases
The Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa (CBMSO) works tirelessly to understand the biological mechanisms of human disorders, and has recently set its sights on Cornelia de Lange syndrome (CdLS). This rare genetic disorder is caused by a poorly functioning protein in the body, which impedes cell division and growth, causing life-changing developmental challenges.
Alongside in vitro experiments in its laboratories, CBMSO runs in silico experiments, using computer simulations of cells in the body to understand how diseases work, and explore the effects of molecules that could affect them.
To understand and help treat CdLS, CBMSO was running detailed simulations of the millions of interactions between proteins in CdLS-affected cells, seeking to test how introducing different molecules could alter protein function. Molecules that produce positive effects could offer the route to drug therapies to treat the disease. However, the huge number of simulations and level of detail required was beyond the capabilities of CBMSO’s existing computer systems.
Dr Paulino Gomez-Puertas, Research Scientist for CBMSO, explains, “We wanted to be able to simulate these interactions as fast as we possibly could, as the results would help guide the in vitro research that is so essential. How could we analyze millions of interactions at high speed to help us find the answers?”
Powering complex computer models
CBMSO approached IBM to look for an infrastructure solution that could provide the sheer compute capacity required, while also offering future scalability. The IBM team responded with a proof of concept based on IBM Power Systems AC922 servers, equipped with IBM POWER8® processors, to form the core of a new high-performance computing system.
“The proof of concept quickly proved that IBM offered the best technology for the job, and that IBM could provide a solution which would truly accelerate the production of our medical simulations,” Dr Gomez-Puertas says. “The IBM solution allows us to run 160 processes simultaneously without interruption, which really improves the pace we can work at.”
Following the successful installation of the IBM Power Systems servers, CBMSO is now upgrading to IBM POWER9™ processors, designed specifically for data-intensive computing processes, which will further accelerate simulation delivery.
“As well as the outstanding performance of the IBM Power Systems servers, the positive input, advice and contribution from the people at IBM was critical to success,” Dr Gomez-Puertas continues. “We are biologists, not computer scientists, so we needed some help configuring the solution. The IBM team is always on-hand to help, enabling smooth implementation and upgrade processes, so we can get back to our vital work.”
Accelerating the search for a treatment
Moving to IBM Power Systems servers has enabled CBMSO to run its complex simulations faster than ever before, and the organization will see additional performance improvements as it upgrades to IBM POWER9 processors.
“Simulations run so fast on IBM Power Systems, the technology really exceeded our expectations,” remarks Dr Gomez-Puertas. “The IBM POWER8 processors deliver results around 10 to 15 times faster than our previous technology—and the IBM POWER9 upgrade has sped this up even more, by at least two or three times.”
Drawing on the accelerated simulation capabilities of the IBM Power Systems solutions, CBMSO’s researchers can work faster to better understand CdLS and hopefully find an effective treatment in the future. In this way, the organization is helping to improve quality of life for sufferers and their families.
Dr Gomez-Puertas concludes: “With IBM Power Systems driving our computer modelling experiments, we hope to find a treatment for some special cases of CdLS. When we do, we can move on to develop cures for other diseases, to help as many people as possible. We know we can rely on our powerful IBM Power Systems technology, as well as our strong and successful relationship with IBM, to support us along this journey.”
Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa (CBMSO)
Run jointly between the Spanish National Research Council and the Autonomous University of Madrid, the Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa (CBMSO), focuses on understanding the molecular interactions behind human diseases, in order to help find effective treatments and cures. The organization employs over 700 people, with a team dedicated to computational biomedicine.