The tech that's really changing lives

The tech that's really changing lives
The TGen Cloud, which uses high-performance computing and the cloud to help treat children with cancer

In technology, the term "life-changing" is often used to describe a slightly slimmer smartphone - but sometimes technologies really do change, and save, lives. That's definitely the case with the TGen Cloud, which uses high-performance computing and the cloud to help treat children with cancer.

Neuroblastoma, the most common form of cancer in infants, is a particularly nasty illness. It's hard to treat because it produces unique and extremely aggressive tumours that don't respond to conventional treatment.

There's another problem, too. The relative lack of funding and resources devoted to childhood neuroblastoma means that parents and doctors have relied mainly on trial and error to identify the best treatment for affected children.

Technology such as the TGen Cloud changes that.

What is the TGen Cloud?

The TGen Cloud is a real-time, global knowledge repository of the latest findings on the most effective treatments. It's a partnership between Dell and the Translational Genomics Research Institute, or TGen for short.

Dell provides the high-performance computing hardware, cloud infrastructure, support, funding and volunteers, and TGen carries out the genetic analysis. By simplifying and massively speeding up interaction and data sharing between doctors and scientists, the TGen Cloud enables doctors to identify appropriate treatments more quickly and deliver those treatments much earlier.

The actual process is very simple. When a child is diagnosed with neuroblastoma, the tumour is biopsied and analysed by TGen, which maps it against millions of patient DNA and treatment variables.

That mapping enables oncologists to see which treatments were most effective in genetically similar cases. As the child is treated the doctor adds the results to the database, expanding it further and making the data ever more valuable to doctors and cancer researchers. The database is stored in a private cloud, enabling doctors to access it instantly while keeping patient data secure and completely confidential.

It may be a simple process, but it requires an astonishing amount of data and an equally astonishing amount of computing power. The TGen Cloud manages some 200 billion data points - not in total, but per patient.

As you might expect, making sense of that involves some serious hardware. The TGen cloud has some 8.2 teraflops of computing power, a massive 1,200% increase over the existing clinical computing cluster.

The results are genuinely life-changing. By giving each doctor access to a global knowledge base the TGen Cloud makes it easier to identify personalised, targeted treatments for each individual child, and the enormous computing power that underpins the system means that genetic mapping that used to take several months can now be achieved in a couple of days.

That means children are receiving better treatment, and they're receiving that treatment much more quickly than ever before.

For now the TGen Cloud is limited to neuroblastoma, but the system has enormous potential for the treatment of other childhood cancers too. It's a great example of how high-performance computing and the cloud can deliver something truly valuable, and something that really deserves the label "life-changing".

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.