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Mayo Clinic logs on to Blue Gene

IBM supercomputer drafted to help do the math on genes connected to cancer, other diseases.

The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research plans to partner with IBM to model diseases and, it hopes, to find cures using the Blue Gene supercomputer.

The two organizations said Wednesday that they will jointly develop new technologies and devices aimed at improving diagnosis, curing diseases and developing individualized treatment. Mayo Clinic will use IBM's Blue Gene supercomputer for mathematical modeling required to understand gene and protein structures and their interactions to get clues about disease causes. This may help Mayo understand which genes might be responsible for certain diseases, including various cancers.

Blue Gene, originally an IBM research project to investigate how proteins fold into complex three-dimensional shapes, has found use in other number-crunching fields of scientific research, such as radio astronomy. IBM has had competition from others, such as Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems, in the emerging life science market.

A project on individualized patient care, planned by Mayo and IBM, involves using data-mining tools to provide customized information for each patient to his or her practicing physician on demand. This could enable doctors to access information regarding a patient's medical history, in addition to research and clinical outcomes of other patients under similar conditions, Mayo and IBM said.

"We are at a point with standards in technology and new genomic-based analytic techniques where we can achieve more in the next 10 years than we've achieved in the last 100, and we see in IBM a partner with a very unique capacity to deliver expertise and innovation," Mayo CEO Denis Cortese said in a statement.

IBM and Mayo have digitized 4.4 million patient records in nonintegrated formats into a unified system based on a standard technology platform. Doctors and researchers will be able to access these records for research purposes, while honoring patients' privacy rights and government regulations. The partners said they will invest in technology and human resources to develop a standard method of integrating patient data to extend the types of data that can be analyzed into an integrated database, using open technology platforms.

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