Fighting cancer one level at a time

Would you have ever imagined that one day a Sony Playstation would help find a cure for cancer? How about that your computer’s screensaver would one day search for extraterrestrial intelligence on Mars?

The thought of mini Playstation controllers battling cancer cells and giant screensavers fighting off Martians seems like something out of a science fiction movie. But what if there was some truth behind the idea of a Playstation finding a cure for cancer? Or screensavers detecting life on another planet?

Recently, researchers have been using technology and its massive audience to help better the world we live in. Often times our generation feels the need to excuse our reliability on technology as if it were something to be ashamed of. But what if all of this gaming on Playstation and surfing on the Web is actually beneficial?

Now, before all of you Playstation owners start to pat yourself on the back, let me explain exactly how researchers are benefiting from your unused Internet connections.

For years, there have been distributed computing projects that allow computer owners to donate unused computer time to various causes. A common one, as well as the very first of these projects, is called [email protected] [email protected] is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence” (SETI).

By participating, PC owners can run a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data through your computer’s screensaver. Dr. Karen Stine, a professor of Biology at Ashland University has used [email protected] and commented on the experience.

“I always thought it was pretty cool that my computer could search for extraterrestrial life while I was not using it,” Stine said. “I think it is a great thing that they are doing, and I was happy to participate.”

Sounds pretty crazy, but [email protected] has inspired many other corporations. Almost like donating money to a cause, you can donate your unused computer power to a variety of causes.

Sony has recently teamed up with a project known as [email protected] [email protected] is an organization at Stanford University that has been connecting to unused Internet sources in hopes to produce enough power to fold proteins. Scientists believe that breaking down proteins will lead to finding cures for certain types of cancers.

“When proteins don’t fold correctly they can sometimes lead to diseases,” Stine said. Stine explained further, that folding a protein can be compared to knitting a sweater.

“I always explain to my students that the string of amino acids, which make up a protein, is like a piece of yarn and protein folding is the sweater made from the yarn,” she explained.

Because there are thousands of amino acids in one protein, things can get pretty complicated when attempting to manipulate proteins. In order to fold a protein, a large amount of power must be created. This is a number so large that even the world’s most effective super computers can not produce it. This is where Playstation comes into the picture.

Playstation owners can donate their unused playing time to [email protected] by simply installing a feature that allows [email protected] to use their unused power. According to [email protected], the unused power is expected to reach speeds of one petaflop, or 1,000 trillion calculations per second.

Kimberly Otzman, of corporate communications at Sony Computer Entertainment America, was thrilled to hear that BGSU students were becoming familiar with the