Canadian researchers plan to step up the war on cancer by harnessing the help hundreds of thousands of people who volunteer their unused computer time to crack tough problems.
The research team, led by Dr. Igor Jurisica at the Ontario Cancer Institute (OCI), and scientists at Princess Margaret Hospital and University Health Network, are the first from Canada to use the World Community Grid, a network of PCs and laptops with the power equivalent to one of the globe's top five fastest supercomputers.
By using the combined computing power of the grid, the Help Conquer Cancer project will allow cancer researchers to drastically shorten the amount of time it would take to analyse 90 million images of crystallized proteins, from 162 years using existing computing systems to between one to two years using the harnessed power of the grid.
The team will use World Community Grid to analyse the results of experiments on proteins using data collected by scientists at the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute in Buffalo, New York. This analysis would take conventional computer systems 162 years to complete.
However, using World Community Grid, Dr. Jurisica anticipates the analysis could be finished in one to two years, and will provide researchers with a better way to study how proteins function, insight that could lead to the development of more effective cancer-fighting drugs.
"We know that most cancers are caused by defective proteins in our bodies, but we need to better understand the specific function of those proteins and how they interact in the body. We also have to find proteins that will enable us to diagnose cancer earlier, before symptoms appear, to have the best chance of treating the disease -- or potentially stopping it completely," said Dr. Jurisica.
The research team now has more than 86 million images of 9,400 unique proteins that could be linked to cancer, captured in the course of more than 14.5 million experiments by colleagues at Hauptman-Woodward.
This comprises the most comprehensive database on the chemistry of a large number of proteins, a resource that will help researchers around the world unlock the mystery of how many cancers, such as breast, prostate or childhood leukemia, grow.
The World Community Grid was created by IBM about three years ago as a way to harness unused global computing power to help solve a variety of health and scientific issues.
The project calls on home and corporate PC users to register with the grid, then download and install a small software program that allows their unused computer cycles to work on critical scientific research.