HP, Intel, Microsoft Technology Enable Less-Invasive Virtual Colonoscopies

With HP's multicore PCs, Microsoft's high-performance computing technology and Intel's Parallel Studio 2011, Massachusetts General has shortened a virtual colonoscopy from 30 minutes to under 4 minutes.

Using technology from HP, Intel and Microsoft, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital has developed an algorithm to make colonoscopies less invasive, faster and less expensive.

Hiro Yoshida, director of 3D imaging research in the radiology department at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, has developed a DTLS (datagram transport layer security) algorithm to run a virtual colonoscopy.

Colonoscopies test for colon cancer, the third-leading cause of cancer death in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Colonoscopies are recommended for people over 50 or those with a family history of colorectal cancer.

The algorithm runs on HP multicore systems as well as Microsoft's HPC (high-performance computing) Server 2008 and .NET 4.0 Framework. In addition, it incorporates Vectorform's image viewer and Intel's Parallel Studio 2011 to reduce the time of virtual colonoscopies, or CT colonographies, from 30 minutes to about 3 minutes, Yoshida told eWEEK.

Instead of sending a tube with a camera up from the anus to the cecum to look for polyps and if necessary remove them, imagery makes the process simpler. From the CT scan "we are able to reconstruct the colon and see the inside of a colon surface as if we are doing the colonoscopy exam through a camera," Yoshida said.

"The idea is you want to be able to have the results back while you're in front of the patient if it's at all possible," Steve Aylward, Microsoft's general manager for commercial health and life sciences, told eWEEK.

"The program's goal is to reduce waiting times for patients and medical experts by increasing the performance, reliability, and speed in processing and displaying images," James Reinders, Intel's director of software products, wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK. "By combining HP systems and Microsoft's technologies with the Intel Parallel Studio 2011 developer tool suite, Massachusetts General's radiology application is operating up to 10 times faster in demo trials, dramatically improving operational efficiency and easing the lives of patients."

Massachusetts General sought the advice of Microsoft and Intel to see how the virtual colonoscopies could be speeded up while avoiding the invasive procedures, chalky laxatives, sedation and higher costs of traditional colonoscopies, according to Aylward.

In the virtual colonoscopy method, patients don't have to take a laxative to clean out their system, according to Yoshida. The images are able to electronically remove the fecal matter so it doesn't affect the test results, he explained.

"Rather than take that chalky laxative and do the preparation the day before, what that does is automatically tag the items inside you and can flag the potential polops-it's done in a matter of minutes," Aylward said.

If doctors discover a polyp during a virtual colonoscopy, however, patients will then need to undergo the traditional procedure.

With virtual colonoscopies, doctors and researchers wanted to reduce the time of patient preparation and recovery (two days combined).

"The expense of doing the virtual procedures is a fraction of what the traditional optical process is," Aylward said. "We're talking hundreds of dollars as opposed to multiple thousands of dollars to do the traditional procedure."

Various components of Intel Parallel Studio 2011, including Parallel Advisor and Parallel Amplifier, helped make the algorithms run faster, according to Intel's Reinders.

The software analyzed Massachusetts General's virtual colonoscopy code to see how it could be optimized. Intel PP (Performance Primitives) substituted the standard code for faster versions of the data, Parallel Amplifier increased the speed of the code and Parallel Inspector fixed memory and threading errors.

"The net effect of these optimization and correctness-checking steps resulted in a code that was up to 10 times faster than the original." Reinders said.

Meanwhile, VectoForm built a 3D image viewer running on Microsoft's .NET to allow the images to be viewed on any screen, including mobile devices. Multitouch capabilities in Windows 7 allow gastroenterologists flexibility in positioning the 3D images. In addition, by using the Windows Azure platform, the virtual colonoscopy will eventually be performed using cloud computing.

"Hosting this type of service in the cloud allows the hospital or physician to pay per use, not have to pay for the infrastructure onsite and not have to pay for it themselves," Aylward said.

The virtual colonoscopy method is currently in a "point of concept" phase and may be available for use in the third quarter of 2011, Yoshida said.