EDMONTON, Alberta – 24 June 2015: A new model that predicts drug toxicity, better understanding of water contaminates and improved protocols to diagnose brain dysfunction are just a few of the outcomes from a unique and extended, multi-discipline research collaboration IBM (NYSE: IBM) is supporting in Alberta, which is this month celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Since its inception, the IBM Alberta Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS) has applied a novel formula of public/private research collaboration to drive innovation, accelerate commercialization and support diversification in the province. The Centre links faculty and students from University of Alberta and University of Calgary with IBM research scientists and technologies they otherwise would not have access to, in pursuit of solutions to challenges of importance to Albertans and the world.
To date, the IBM Alberta CAS has supported more than 45 independent research projects and spawned more than six patent filings. It has also provided hundreds of post-secondary students with the opportunity to develop new skills in technologies such as cloud, high performance computing and big data analytics, and exposed them to emerging industries.
Research themes focus on the environment, healthcare and natural resource management. For example:
University of Calgary’s Dr. Lee Jackson, along with an initiative called Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets (ACWA), is using IBM software to access research facilities and glean insights from what he describes as a “data nightmare” in a project that studies the removal of contaminants from municipal wastewater. The research has implications for a variety of industries. The software enables Dr. Jackson and his team to create a dashboard to analyze and visualize terabyes of data generated by sensors embedded in a 0.5 mega-litre per day wastewater treatment research facility, a dozen adjacent research streams, and an analytical laboratory.
Dr. Jack Tuszynski from the University of Alberta is using an IBM high-performance computing cluster to create computer models of protein targets in oncology and virology applications, to screen for potential therapeutic agents. “It’s like sifting through galaxies to find the star you want,” says Dr. Tuszynski. In the search for novel hepatitis C drugs, his collaborator Dr. Khaled Barakat created a virtual library of over 60 billion chemical compounds. The work took less than three months to complete, and is one of the largest libraries of its kind ever created. Most recently, they and others at the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology generated a computer model that predicts toxicity of drugs and significantly speeds time-to-market for new therapies for cancer and hepatitis, which affects more than 170 million people worldwide. This research has attracted interest from pharmaceutical companies.
Dr. Russ Greiner and members of his lab at the University of Alberta are applying machine-learning approaches to find patterns in brain imaging that will help predict or diagnose brain dysfunctions such as ADHD, Alzheimers and schizophrenia. “We’re helping to advance the emerging field of ‘computational psychiatry.’ Both diagnostic and prognostic tools have high potential for commercialization, to be further developed in companies in Alberta, and elsewhere,” says Dr. Greiner. Currently diagnoses are typically subjective as they are based on a professional’s assessment of whether a patient exhibits a benchmark combination of behaviours on list of criteria. Using IBM technology, researchers at University of Alberta and the University of Calgary will instead build a bio-based system to help identify and develop better, faster, more reliable treatments for mental health, one of the most expensive disease categories in the developed world.
Dr. John Chen, from the University of Calgary, is using IBM technology to improve the accuracy and validity of natural resources exploration. By experimenting on a massively parallel, high performance computer (HPC), he and his team have been able to create models for underground coal gasification and petroleum reservoir simulations that will aid in faster, less intrusive oil and gas exploration and production. Through Alberta CAS, access to IBM's HPC infrastructure has also been applied to other projects in natural resource management where computational resources were a bottleneck.
“The collaborative model that Alberta CAS represents is a successful one. It's producing disruptive technologies, new companies and, more importantly, it's enabling the province to drive innovation and skills, and our top research minds to move from discovery to commercialization faster,” says Bernie Kollman, vice-president, public sector Alberta and co-chair, IBM Alberta CAS.
IBM Alberta CAS is one of more than 20 centres for advanced studies the company has globally. Nationally, IBM is one of the largest private sector investors in research and development, investing $465 million in 2014, alone. IBM is working in collaboration with more than a dozen post-secondary institutions from British Columbia to Newfoundland on hundreds of research initiatives aimed at supporting Canada’s innovation agenda.
"Congratulations to the University of Alberta, University of Calgary and IBM on 10 years of collaboration to bring great minds from industry and academia together. The Centre for Advanced Studies provides a valuable role in connecting Alberta universities to world-class research resources nationally and internationally. This is a partnership our government is proud to support."
-- Minister Lori Sigurdson, Innovation and Advanced Education
Government of Alberta
"The partnership with IBM is a win-win-win situation -- the researchers get to accelerate their research programs, IBM gets an enthusiastic user community to test their hardware and software, and many of the research results obtained have important outcomes for the public. CAS is a brilliant example of how academia and industry can leverage each other's strengths to achieve impressive results."
-- Jonathan Schaeffer, Dean, University of Alberta Faculty of Science
I feel that by allying our leading infectious disease expertise within the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology at the University of Alberta with the state-of-art computational science developed by IBM and Professor Jack Tuszynski's lab at the University of Alberta over the last decade, we have entered a new era in drug discovery in which the supercomputer models the structure of the target protein and then screens billions of drug fragments with unprecedented speed and scale. Dr. Khaled Barakat, now a principal investigator at the U of A and an ex-trainee of Jack's lab, has exemplified this process recently with the discovery of novel antivirals for HCV and many other medically important targets. Super-computerized drug discovery is now a reality and will quickly become the new standard method used by the pharmaceutical industry.
--Dr. Michael Houghton, Ph D, CERC and professor of medical microbiology & immunology Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Alberta
The IBM Alberta Centre for Advanced Studies has had a tremendous impact on the work in the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology. Jack Tuszynski had the foresight to see the impact that high-performance computing could have on drug design. Through the Centre we have had excellent support from Jack and a new investigator, Khaled Barakat, who was trained by Jack. The new approaches being developed through these collaborations will shorten the time to commercialization of our drug discovery programs and help to diversify Alberta's economy.
--Dr. Lorne Tyrrell, OC, director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology and Professor of Medicine Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Alberta
"The University of Alberta was pleased to be an early partner in the IBM Alberta Centre for Advanced Studies. The collaboration has continued to evolve and expand, and we all celebrate the first decade of this innovative relationship. New possibilities await all the partners in the years to come, and U of A researchers will continue their central involvement in the collaboration".
Lorne A. Babiuk, Vice-President (Research), University of Alberta.
“The University of Calgary is delighted to celebrate a great milestone with the IBM Alberta Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS) – their 10 year anniversary in innovation and commercialization excellence. Our partnership with IBM Alberta CAS, the Government of Alberta and the University of Alberta is a demonstration of our commitment to meeting the needs of Alberta’s research community and society as a whole. The collaborative work enables our students and researchers to engage in research and economic development to solve real-world problems.”
Dr. Elizabeth Cannon, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calgary
“Analytics and visualization, problem-driven research, and commercialization are important priorities for the University of Calgary. The IBM Centre for Advanced Studies shares these priorities and we value their support. We congratulate them on their 10th anniversary and we look forward to the next ten years of collaboration.”
Dr. Ed McCauley, Vice-President (Research) of the University of Calgary