New computer speeds eye tests

12 August, 2010

Hundreds of thousands of Australians suffering from glaucoma will have access to more accurate information about their deteriorating sight thanks to today's arrival of a supercomputer.

The IBM Blue Gene supercomputer will be used by researchers at the University of Melbourne-led Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (VLSCI). Associate Professor Andrew Turpin from the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering at the University of Melbourne will be among the first researchers to use the Blue Gene supercomputer and says its large scale processing capacity will advance his research into improving vision testing.

"One of the main tools in our development of faster, more accurate eye tests is computer simulation of tests that assess the whole field of vision. Currently these take days on a standard computer, but with Blue Gene we can do them in minutes, allowing even more complex approaches to be evaluated," he says.

"Current clinical tests of the visual field are highly variable, and it can take several years to reliably determine if vision is deteriorating due to glaucoma. Our novel combination of data from both images of the optic nerve, and our new visual field testing strategies, will hopefully markedly reduce this time."

Dr Allison McKendrick from the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences at the University of Melbourne says the benefits of this knowledge, and better vision testing will have a great impact on the hundreds of thousands of Australians with, or at risk of, glaucoma.

"Glaucoma is the second leading cause of irreversible vision loss in older Australians. Improving the accuracy of detection and monitoring of vision loss greatly enhances a clinician’s ability to treat this disease," she says.

The supercomputer has been provided by IBM as part of its partnership with the $100 million VLSCI hosted by the University and established in 2008 to strengthen the research capabilities and outcomes of Victorian Life sciences research.

Source: University of Melbourne