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Science Highlight: April 3, 2013

Neuroimaging Resource Powers-up with new Cloud Computing Capability

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A library of tools for analyzing brain images and related data has moved to the “cloud,” potentially enabling faster and cheaper analysis and hypothesis-testing. The National Institutes of Health-supported Neuroimaging Tools and Resources Clearinghouse (NITRC), now offers researchers cloud-based computing, which brings expanded research capabilities to both large and small-scale researchers while reducing the costs of working with increasingly larger data sets.

A collage of results using one of the many toolkits available on the open-access neuroinformatics clearinghouse, NITRC.

A collage of results using one of the many toolkits available on the open-access neuroinformatics clearinghouse, NITRC.

NITRC is a one-stop shop for software tools, data, and other resources for functional and structural neuroimaging analysis. Data available on NITRC includes brain images from MRI, PET, MEG and other types of brain scans. The 3d Brain Atlas Reconstructor – a software package for reconstructing 3d models of brain structures – is one of the many software tools available. For more information on how NITRC works watch this video at http://www.youtube.com/user/NITRCVideo

The recent addition of the Computing Environment (NITRC-CE) should allow neuroscientists to quickly derive results using Amazon’s Elastic Computer Cluster computing platform, an on-demand, cloud-based computational machine pre-installed with NITRC neuroimaging tools.

A majority of the resources on NITRC are free, and many have communities of interest associated with them. These include U.S. universities, international organizations, and virtual computing consortiums, which share advice and ideas for use of the data and tools. The addition of NITRC-CE increases the speed of analysis and addresses the issue of costs of computing time, which is particularly important for researchers in smaller institutions with limited computing resources. For example, while analyzing an entire dataset of 3D medical images would normally take 24 hours, this computation can now be performed in just 8 minutes using the computing cloud, at a fraction of the cost.

Future plans include providing enhanced data storage and broadening the range of scientific domains to eventually include all neuro-imaging modalities as well as specific topic areas such as clinical neuroinformatics, electrophysiology, and neuroimaging genomics and genetics.

Initiated in 2006 through the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, NITRC is currently funded by the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, National Institute of Drug Addiction, National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

-- Tom Johnson

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