Home PCs could accelerate cancer research

In collaboration with the Press Association

A global network of personal computers should help cancer experts to speed up their analysis of data, accelerating the process from 162 years to less than 24 months, it has emerged.

Over 333,000 people have volunteered their idle computer time to the World Community Grid, creating a network with the power equivalent to one of the globe's fastest supercomputers.

The network allows calculations to be performed on individuals' computers when they are not in use and has already been used to condense five years' worth of HIV/AIDS research into six months.

It will now be used by Canadian researchers to analyse data on proteins that have been collected by the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute in Buffalo, New York.

The research could shed light on how cancers grow and potentially lead to the development of new anti-cancer drugs.

Lead researcher Dr Igor Jurisica of the Ontario Cancer Institute (OCI) said: "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," he explained.

Dr Jurisica's team, which also includes scientists from the Princess Margaret Hospital and University Health Network, will be able to analyse more than 86 million images of 9,400 proteins using the global computer network.