National Science Foundation Grant to fund supercomputer network

driving biomedical research at Meharry

Meharry Medical College’s School of Applied Computational Sciences (SACS) has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant award in the amount of $671,411 to create a high-performance computing network with two supercomputers. This is one of the largest NSF awards given directly to Meharry. The award provides Meharry with a shared memory system featuring one of the fastest commercially available chips on the market, the 7 mm AMC EPYC.

Dr. James E.K. Hildreth

“The high-performance computing network will allow us to maintain a diverse data ecosystem on Meharry’s campus and launch new, state-of-the-art research efforts across the College that apply genomics, deep learning, data visualization and other applications of big data to advance health equity,” says James E.K. Hildreth, Ph.D., M.D., president of Meharry Medical College.

The three-year award will fund upgrades to the Meharry’s existing ADA Departmental GPU supercomputer, the purchase of a Quartet Departmental Mainframe supercomputer, and will provide three years of support for a system administrator and a consultant to maintain the high-performance network. The Quartet supercomputer will feature 512 processor cores, 16 TB of shared memory, and nearly 700 TB of storage via 7mm AMD EPYC chips.

The ADA is designed for high-performance graphic processing unit (GPU) computing while the Quartet is designed for computationally intensive CPU computing. They will function as one integrated system to support the data processing and visualization required for data science research applications.

Dean Fortune Mhlanga

“This high-performance computing network positions the SACS to represent Meharry in new research collaborations like the Vanderbilt-Meharry Alliance and the Consortium of HCA Healthcare and Academia for Research GEneration (CHARGE),” says Fortune S. Mhlanga, dean of the School of Applied Computational Sciences.

“We also look forward to using this resource as part of research and educational outreach with underrepresented students in K-12 and undergraduate schools,” says Mhlanga.

Research impact at Meharry

The high-performance computing network will allow SACS to expand and broaden its multi-disciplinary research across the Meharry community.

“The application of data analytics, visualization and algorithms have been critical to the Social Determinants of Heath efforts to approach health equity by helping to address COVID-19 vaccination hesitancy,” says Mhlanga. “This network will open doors for many other research collaborations on campus and with external partners.”

Research activity at the School of Applied Computational Sciences will also receive a boost through this high-performance computing network. School faculty plan to use the network to transform the rich, diverse dataset of the Meharry Health System to the Observational Medical Outcomes Partnership (OMOP) common data model. This change will provide researchers with opportunities to participate in global network studies at different levels. Converting Meharry’s diverse dataset to the common data model will also encourage broader use of it among researchers at peer institutions, which can help address issues of biased data that impact health equity.  

The SACS faculty also plan to use the high-performance computing network to leverage deep convolutional network to identify the measles rash and to upgrade the VirusFinder software for improved detection of viruses and their integration sites in host genomes through Next Generation Sequencing (NGS). Other plans include harnessing mHealth technology for the early detection of adverse clinical events in hematologic cancer patients and the early diagnosis and prediction of COVID-19 patients.

Importance for academic programs

The robust research opportunities will also greatly enrich the experience for students in the School’s data science and biomedical data science academic programs that feature hands-on experience with real-world data and to prepare for careers involving supercomputers. 

“Our students will have an opportunity to use this high-performance computing network as they work with faculty to solve complex problems through research,” says Mhlanga. “And because they will be working with the best computing resources in the field, the problems they solve will be complex and important.”

SACS personnel involved in writing and submitting the proposal are Drs. Aize Cao (MRI Principal Investigator), Qingguo Wang (NSF MRI Co-Investigator), Vibhuti Gupta, Ashutosh Singhal, and Todd Gary. Dr. Christopher Crowell, associate director of grants management, was instrumental in assisting the SACS team’s submission of this successful proposal.

This project was funded in whole by the National Science Foundation with no additional funding provided by nongovernmental sources. Meharry will maintain the high-performance computing network at the conclusion of the three-year grant cycle to support ongoing data science research.

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