HPC powers innovative Schizophrenia Treatment

Posted: 24 Apr 2018

With the brain being the most complex organ in the human body, it follows that its disorders and in turn their treatments are equally complex. High performance computing (HPC) is being utilized to tackle today’s and tomorrow’s health challenges and power life-science breakthroughs. Pioneering new advances in Schizophrenia treatment, UberCloud’s HPC containers have been packaged with several scientific workflows and application data to simulate complex phenomena in human heart and brain. These HPC cloud projects leverage (containerized) the Abaqus finite element solver as the core software, running in a fully automated multi-node HPE environment in the Advania Data Centers’ HPC Cloud.

Treatment of Schizophrenia is complex, lengthy, and often risky

Schizophrenia affects around one percent of the world’s population, with symptoms ranging from a lack of motivation to hallucinations and hearing internal voices. Often, schizophrenia cannot be treated successfully with a single type of medicine and people will respond differently to different treatments. As such, finding the best treatment regime with the right medication at the correct dosage can be a very lengthy and time-consuming process.

A New Method: HPC-powered Non-Invasive Direct Current Stimulation

In recent years, so-called transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) has been introduced, which is a new form of non-invasive neurostimulation that is used to safely treat a variety of clinical conditions including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, migraine, and central and neuropathic chronic pain. Extensive neurophysiological research has shown that direct current electricity modifies neuronal cross-membrane resting potentials and thereby influences neuronal excitability and firing rates. What’s more, tDCS is inexpensive, lightweight, and can be conducted anywhere.

The UberCloud Experiment #200

In the last six years, UberCloud has performed 200 cloud experiments with engineers and scientists. This latest HPC cloud experiment is based on computer simulations of a novel non-invasive transcranial electro-stimulation of the human brain to treat schizophrenia. The experiment has been collaboratively performed by the National Institute of Mental Health & Neuro Sciences in India (NIMHANS), Advania Data Centers, Dassault SIMULIA, and UberCloud, and generously sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Intel. The current work demonstrates the high value of computational modeling and simulation in improving the clinical application of non-invasive transcranial electro-stimulation of the human brain in schizophrenia.

NIMHANS is India’s premier neuroscience organization involved in clinical research and patient care in the area of neurological and psychiatric disorders. Since 2016, Dassault Systèmes has been collaborating with NIMHANS on a project to demonstrate that computational modeling and simulation can improve the efficacy of tDCS. Successful completion of the first stage of this project has already raised awareness and interest in simulation-based personalized neuromodulation in the clinical community in India.

A high fidelity finite element human head model was considered including skin, skull, cerebro-spinal fluid, sinus grey & white matter, demanding HPC resources to try various electrode configurations. Access to HPE’s HPC infrastructure in the Advania Data Centers’ Cloud and SIMULIA’s Abaqus 2017 code packaged in an UberCloud HPC container, empowered the researcher to run numerous configurations of electrode placements and sizes to explore best possible electrode placement. This had previously been impossible on the user’s in-house workstations and HPC systems but was made possible through Advania Data Centers’ HPCFLOW Cloud offering.

HPC Cloud Hardware and Results

Advania Data Centers’ HPC cluster ran 26 different Abaqus jobs – each representing a different montage (electrode configuration). Each job contained 1.8 million finite elements. For comparison purposes, on the user’s own server with 16 cores, a single run took about 75 minutes; whereas, on the UberCloud cluster a single run took approximately 28 minutes on 24 cores. This represented a significant speedup of around 2x for each job running in the cloud. In the future, it will be possible to run many electrode placement simulations in parallel, thus dramatically speeding up the search for the optimal electrode placement for an individual patient, with the final goal to perform such a search in (almost) real-time. In addition, during this cloud experiment, the Abaqus 2017 software container has always been accessible through the user’s browser, from anywhere, on demand, for any kind of interactive and batch work, and for remote visualization of the simulation results.


The application discussed here demonstrates a novel method for “Deep Brain Stimulation” in a non-invasive way, which has the potential to replace some of the painful, high-risk brain surgeries, such as those used to treat schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disorders. The huge benefits of these simulations are that they (i) predict the current distribution with high resolution; (ii) allow for patient-specific treatment and outcome evaluation; (iii) facilitate parameter sensitivity analyses and montage variations; and (iv) can be used by clinicians in an interactive real-time manner. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in collaboration with the Doctors/Clinicians at NIMHANS and other Neurological Research Centers on how this method can be appraised and fine-tuned for real-time clinical use.

Interested readers can download the complete NIMHANS cloud case study here.