A moon shot for the brain at Italy’s Cineca consortium

Italian consortium contributes essential high performance computing resources to a multinational effort to develop the world’s most detailed model of the human brain.


For more than 50 years, Italy’s Cineca consortium has provided public and industrial research institutions with leading-edge systems and technologies for high-performance scientific computing. In this role, Cineca delivers HPC resources, data management tools, and HPC services and expertise to enable the work of researchers in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

The ultimate goal of Cineca’s work is to help researchers accelerate scientific discovery and data-driven innovations. To that end, Cineca’s HPC experts consult with users on the tools and techniques employed in several scientific disciplines — from medicine to meteorology, from seismology to fluid dynamics, from bioinformatics to chemistry and high energy physics — to drive science forward.

“At Cineca, we provide access to, and support for, the most advanced HPC systems in Italy,” says Sanzio Bassini, director of the HPC department at Cineca. “We are a frequent flyer in the top ten of the Top500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers. And we provide the same HPC access and the same services to the European community that we provide to the national scientific community in Italy.”

The Human Brain Project

One of the ongoing scientific initiatives supported by Cineca is the Human Brain Project, or HBP. This multinational initiative is focused on taking our understanding of the human brain to places we have never been before. At the highest level, the goal of this project is to implement for the human brain what the European nuclear research organization CERN has implemented for high energy physics — which is the largest particle physics laboratory in the world.

With this goal in mind, the Human Brain Project, coordinated by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne, is creating the world’s largest experimental facility for developing the world’s most detailed model of the brain. This model will allow scientists, physicians and others to better study how the human brain works and, ultimately, develop personalized treatments for neurological and related diseases. About 90 European and international research institutes are involved in the Project.

For its part in the latest phase of the Human Brain Project, Cineca is implementing and operating one of the project’s planned four new advanced supercomputing systems: the HBP supercomputer for massive data analytics.

This system, delivered by Dell Technologies, incorporates a rich mix of leading-edge HPC products, including Dell EMC PowerEdge servers with Intel® Xeon® Platinum processors. With its large memory footprint based on Intel® Optane™ memory, the system is designed to provide efficient storage, processing and management of large volumes of data generated by the multi-national Human Brain Project.

Huge achievements

Since its launch in 2013, the Human Brain Project has provided a framework to help teams of researchers and technologists work together to scale up ambitious ideas from the lab, explore the different aspects of brain organization, and understand the mechanisms behind cognition, learning and plasticity. To date, the HBP has fueled research that has resulted in more than 1,400 journal publications, unique new research infrastructures and high-level scientific events.

Here are a few examples of the results of the research conducted under the HBP framework, gleaned from the Human Brain Project’s Highlights and Achievements site.

  • A team of scientists has developed a treatment that allows patients to regain control of their blood pressure, using targeted electrical spinal-cord stimulation.
  • HBP research has helped lay the foundation for a brain implant that could one day give blind people their sight back.
  • An epilepsy model developed by the Human Brain Project provides the basis for a novel framework, which could also push forward basic understanding of the disease.
  • Data obtained within HBP’s brain atlas work has contributed to the discovery of a “short distance” brain connectivity deficit that is associated with a lack of social interaction and empathy.

And the future promises to bring more of the same, thanks in part to the ongoing expansion of the project’s HPC resources that power and accelerate extremely demanding research workloads.

For the full story, see the Dell Technologies case study “A Moon Shot for the Brain” and the video “Cineca is a frequent flyer in the top 10 of the TOP500.”


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