Supercomputers, pelvic prolapses, Dell and the matrix

By Jesse Hawley

15 March 2016

3 minute read

Our pelvis is home to some pretty vital organs: bladder, urethra, intestines, and rectum. These are held together by taut muscles in the pelvic floor, and any damage done to these muscles is bad news for the organs cradled therein.

One of the most extreme strains on the pelvic floor is child-birth. Under the immense pressure, the muscles can tear and one or more of the pelvic organs be forced into the only available space — the vagina. The result is a Pelvic Organ Prolapse and a wince-inducing onomatopoeic acronym.

One in ten women worldwide will suffer a pelvic organ prolapse (POP), and in Australia, one in five will require surgery. As it stands, the surgery is inadequate. Some treatments integrate synthetic meshes into the tissue, but this can result in infection and damage to the tissue wall. Up to one-third of POP surgeries can have complications.

Modelling results showing how an internal organ would deflect under loading (1) without support, and (2) how a mesh implant reduces such deflection.

Modelling results showing how an internal organ would deflect under loading (1) without support, and (2) how a mesh implant reduces such deflection.

We and researchers from the Monash Institute for Medical Research have been developing a new mesh. Our mesh uses a unique synthetic matrix coated in uterine cells native to the patient — this biological coating helps introduce the mesh into the natural tissue lining.

Though an improvement, this mesh is being developed to be universal for women worldwide and so must be able to flex and adapt to myriad women with myriad lifestyles. The mesh, made of custom polymers, must behave as human tissue.

We’ve used computer modelling to design the mesh, but designing a synthetic fabric that emulates the body at such a delicate scale, in every instance, requires immense numbers of calculations and analyses too great for typical computers.

Enter Dell

For the past three years we’ve been working closely with Dell in a unique collaboration to create a supercomputer, a high performance computer cluster (HPCC) to tackle some of our most data-burdened research challenges. It’s here…and its name is Pearcey.

Pearcey is available to our registered users for general application, and boy is it being used. We’re using the cluster to model fluid dynamics, materials science, and more.

Supercomputer Pearcey

Big and beautiful – the supercomputer Pearcey can help us to tackle calculations too complicated for regular computers.

Back to the POP predicament

With the immense task of developing synthetic tissue to imitate human tissue, our research team — featuring Dr. Dayalan Gunasegaram one of our computational modellers — and the Monash team have enlisted the help of Pearcey to crunch the otherwise uncrunchable numbers.

“Using the high performance computing capability of the Pearcey cluster we can simulate the stressful forces a patient would experience, such as during coughing or running, and model a variety of different situations to assess the mesh under stress,” said Dr. Gunasegaram.

“The computer simulations allow us to better understand the cause-and-effect relationships between mesh parameters, such as pore size and their expected in-vivo performance after implantation, and really focus on the areas with the most influence.”

Pearcey is a striking instance of powerful technology meshing with organic inquiry to solve real-world problems.

Angus Macoustra, executive manager of Scientific Computing at CSIRO explains,

“High performance computing facilities such as Pearcey are an integral part of the advanced information and communications technologies that enable us to solve real issues.”

To find out about our high performance computing capabilities you can view some case studies here.

Or maybe you’d like to collaborate with us?