Grid computing helping to solve cancer mysteries

June 24th, 2008 - 6:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, June 24 (IANS) In a unique venture, people across the globe are cooperating to fight cancer using a concept known as grid computing. Grid computing - as opposed to local computing — allows Internet users worldwide to contribute to a “virtual” supercomputer to solve a difficult problem.

This can be done by “donating” idle computer time to the effort.

The anti-cancer project, called Cellular Environment in Living Systems @Home or CELS@Home , is the brainchild of Muhammad Zaman of Texas University and comprises more than 1,000 computer users worldwide.

The program runs whenever the screensaver is activated, requiring no effort on the part of the user to run the program or report the computations.

In this case, the grid computing program is calculating cellular interactions in different environments to help understand the principles of cell migration and cancer cell metastasis, or the spread of cancer from the original tumor to other parts of the body.

“We have launched a global effort to recreate the live environment of cancer cells in a computer model. This allows us to perform virtual experiments and study processes that are too costly or technically very difficult to study,” said Zaman.

“By recreating this whole ’system of processes inside a cancer cell’, we will be in a position to fully comprehend the problem and hopefully identify targets that will one day translate into anti-cancer drugs.”

In just two months, the program has already yielded enough information in for two journal articles.

“What took months can be done now in days or weeks,” Zaman said. “It’s amazing.”

“Cancer is not a disease of a single gene or cell, but a problem that involves thousands of genes, signals and molecular components. Understanding cancer requires understanding the system in its proper context, not just a tiny bit of the problem,” said Zaman.

He said only a background program (or screensaver) needs to be downloaded - at no cost to the user - to contribute to the CELS@Home effort.

“It’s a completely passive approach,” Zaman said. “There are no viruses or no spam that can compromise the performance of their machines.”

Among the approximate 1,000 users, there have been no instances of computer problems, he says. Users are from countries such as: Argentina, Australia, China, Denmark, France, Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Venezuela.

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