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GMU and Parabon Collaborate on Compute Against Alzheimer’s Disease (CAAD) Research Initiative

Wednesday, April 15, 2015  
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Parabon Computation launches the Compute Against Alzheimer’s Disease (CAAD) research initiative, which will accelerate investigations into the causes and risks of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) through the application of large-scale computational capacity donated by concerned citizens and organizations. AD is a leading cause of death and dementia among the elderly, affecting nearly 40 million people worldwide. In addition to its devastating effect on patients and its emotional toll on their families, the societal costs of AD are estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars, yet there are no effective treatment options available today.

The CAAD software infrastructure, which is powered by idle, otherwise wasted computing capacity of potentially thousands of computers – ranging in power from laptops to Linux clusters – the program aims to become a vital platform for computationally intensive AD research. By downloading and installing a small, unobtrusive software application that, like a screensaver, operates only when a computer is not otherwise in use, volunteer providers can offer up the idle capacity from their computers to support the CAAD effort. The crowdsourcing of such spare capacity from computers around the globe will enable important AD research questions to be addressed that would otherwise be prohibitively time consuming.

Initially, CAAD will support two research projects. The first, led by Dr. Ellen McRae of Parabon NanoLabs, seeks to identify genetic biomarkers that, in combination, can be used to accurately predict an individual’s risk of developing AD. Using newly available data from Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), McRae expects to perform some of the most in-depth analyses ever conducted into the connections between genetics and the risk of contracting AD. The results could allow early identification of individuals at risk for AD and give high-risk patients, young and old alike, the opportunity to undergo regular screening for signs of disease and to modify environmental risk factors.

The second project, directed by Dr. Dmitri Klimov of George Mason University, uses computer simulations to investigate how particular peptides, implicated with the onset of AD, damage neurons by their interaction at the surface of such cells. It can take months for a computer to simulate even a few nanoseconds of molecular activity of the type Klimov studies and thousands of exemplars are needed to draw statistically meaningful conclusions. With CAAD resources, he hopes to discover the molecular mechanisms responsible for neuron death in AD patients.

“It’s great to see industry, academia and private citizens working together on such an important mission,” says Dr. Vikas Chandhoke, VP of Research & Economic Development at George Mason University. “Mason is pleased to participate in such a worthwhile program.”

Development of the scientific software that supports each of these respective projects has been partially funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Parabon has received Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) awards from NIH to support collaborations with Professor Klimov and, separately, with researchers at Dartmouth College, through which best-in-class technology from academia is translated into commercially viable applications that run on the company’s Frontier Compute Platform, which powers the CAAD project.

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