Computers boost surgical success
Chaudhary develops tools and software to assist neurosurgeons
By KEVIN FRYLING
Reporter Staff Writer
As a specialist in high-performance computing, Vipin Chaudhary says UB's growth in computer science and engineering, its New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, and its Center for Computational Research (CCR) provided the strong research infrastructure that brought him to the university this fall.
Chaudhary, associate professor of computer science and engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, uses high-performance computers to provide neurosurgeons with the up-to-date visual information required in the operating room to ensure successful surgical outcomes.
"There's no reason, with today's technology, that surgeries should go on the way they do," he says.
Most operations on the brain are performed through a small cranial incision, he explains, which means MRI or CT (computed tomography) scans, not sight, provide neurosurgeons with the roadmap that leads them through the brain to remove a tumor. However, scans taken several hours before an operation do not match the real-world situation found in surgery, he says, because the loss of cerebrospinal fluid after an incision causes the brain to sink up to an inch in the skull.
A few hospitals use intraoperative MRI machines to scan after the incision, but these are expensive and require patients to remain on the operating table extra hours.
"The problem is that brain structures move," says Chaudhary. "And different structures move at different rates because the brain is not homogeneous."
The solution? He points to high-performance computers and software that are able to use pattern recognition and visual processing to render real-time images that predict structural shifts in the brain using pre-operative scans.
"The analogy I give is a GPS (global positioning system) in a car," says Chaudhary. "If you miss a turn, it doesn't keep continuing with the previous directions. It will re-route you to the destination. In the same way, if I take a tumor to be the destination, the planning system doesn't just pre-plan. It actually does planning on the fly."
At his previous institution, Wayne State University in Detroit, Chaudhary spearheaded a research team that created tools and software to assist neurosurgeons that now are being used at the Detroit Medical Center. He adds that similar trials could start in Buffalo within several months.
"The research team on the project included about 30 members," he recalls. "We had electrical engineers, computer scientists, bioengineers and neurosurgeons." A $3.3 million grant from the Michigan Life Sciences Corridor supported the project.
Collaborative projects and interdisciplinary researchhallmarks of life science computingare top priorities for Chaudhary, in terms of both professional practice and student education. In addition to working with neurosurgeons to sit in on actual surgical procedures, he established a program in scientific computing at Wayne State that taught computer science students to work and communicate across disciplines. He received a $2.9 million National Science Foundation grant to establish the program.
Although a member of the academy since receiving a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Texas-Austin in 1992, Chaudhary says his research perspective started to shift toward larger, multidisciplinary projects after he spent two years in the private sector in California beginning in late 1999. He served as chief architect at Corio Inc., an application service provider acquired by IBM in 2005, and as senior director of Cradle Technologies Inc., a high-performance microchip producer.
"After going to Silicon Valley, I'm looking more entrepreneurial," says Chaudhary. "I try to look toward a goal: to impact the community and the life of people.
"I'm well-grooved in the industry aspects," he adds. "If you're too narrow, sometimes you can miss the big picture. If I don't know what else is going on in the market, then it becomes harder to build bigger systems."
Last year, Chaudhary established his own start-up technology company, Micass L.L.C., to support and market his computer-assisted neurosurgery software. Its development continues with some projects in the pipeline, among them making brain scans accessible via PDA to enable neurosurgeons to pre-plan operations remotely. Chaudhary has spoken to investors in the Midwest about his business and plans soon to start seeking venture capital in Buffalo and Western New York.
He's also seeking Ph.D. students and postdocs to assist in his life science computing research and other ongoing high-performance computing projects. One subject he remains active in is crash-resistant or "fault-tolerant" computing. Several Ph.D. students from Michigan will join his research team at UB as well.
Another project he is working on involves designing and building high-performance, computational-accelerator platforms and associated software that are significantly better in performance than typical supercomputers available in the market today. The system, he explains, will use reconfigurable processors, graphics processors and floating-point accelerators, in addition to the traditional CPUs. "This will enable an order-of-magnitude-better performance with less power and space requirements for specific applications," he says.
Chaudhary notes that he is not teaching his first semester at UB. "I'm trying to set up my lab and write some grants. Next semester, I will teach a seminar course."
Although his house remains for sale in Michigan, Chaudhary says he and his wife, Parneeta computer programmer and former senior data warehouse architect at Daimler-Chryslerand daughters, Prerna, 7, and Sanjana, 5, are settling well into their new home and school in Amherst.
He says that while the short commute to the North Campus has been a welcome change following years of driving more than 20 miles to work in Detroit, the best thing about living in Buffalo has been the warm reception he has received, both on and off campus.
"The neighbors are amazingly friendly," he says. "I had this sense that the State of New York would be like the City of New Yorkeveryone busy with no time for anyone else. But Buffalo is very different.
"The department has been great," he adds. "All my experiences in the department and the community have been very, very friendly."