Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Software Tracks Changes

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital are collaborating to find ways to predict and prevent diseases. The research team composed of image and computational analysis experts at ORNL are working with experienced neuroscientists at St. Jude to solve some challenging problems in a unique way.

The team is looking at how developing nerve cells may hold a key to finding the answers to diseases such as Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. When St. Jude researchers are analyzing images, they look for several specific changes. However, there may be much more relevant information in those images that they don’t have the ability to find or study in great detail.

To deal with this problem, ORNL is working with Michael Dyer of St. Jude’s Department of Developmental Neurobiology to develop computer software that will automate the process of tracking changes in the shape and position of neurons over time.

The next stage for software development will be to focus on automatically detecting when and how neurons branch or grow. Branching patterns and branch orientations can be critical to distinguishing between normally developing neurons and those with the potential to cause disease.

The ultimate goal of the research is to develop computational tools that recognize how neurons change and move in ways that are unexpected or abnormal so that neuroscientists can develop ways to address these changes so as to treat and ultimately prevent neurological diseases.

The work is funded by the Seed Money fund of ORNL’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development program and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.