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Industry Role-Based Tech Talk:
You Can Help Defeat Disease
Posted 13 years ago on 8/27/2007 and updated 10/26/2007
Take Away: An exciting, new grid computing project is underway to discover potential cures for several of the world's most devastating diseases: AIDS, West Nile Virus, and Alzheimer's disease. With virtually no trouble at all, you can be a part of it.
 A blog topic from Wes's Blog


What if you could discover the cure for AIDS? Or for West Nile virus? Or even Alzheimer's disease?

What if I told you that, if you're reading this, you already have everything you need to help? You don't have to be a doctor, and you don't need to know anything about viruses, protein structure, or even chemistry.

What if you didn't even need to do very much at all? Well, maybe spend 10 minutes at your computer.

You can!

You can volunteer your computer's spare processing time to help search for cures. The concept is actually quite simple. With access to a single supercomputer it can take researchers years to identify suitable candidate compounds to block the reproduction of the viruses that cause these diseases. But if a grid, comprised of hundreds of thousands - or even millions of humble personal computers were set to the task, the time to identify likely candidate compounds can be slashed dramatically.

If you've heard of the SETI project (to scan radio emissions coming in from outer space in the search for other intelligent life), you're already familiar with the idea of grid computing.

This concept is now being applied to the search for cures to diseases that ravage millions of people.

To participate, you sign up as a volunteer, download a program, install it, set your preferences, and let it run. At that point, the program goes out on the Internet and obtains its first assignments.

Much like a screensaver, this program waits in the background until your computer is idle. When your computer is idle, the program kicks in and works at crunching its assignments. When its assignments are complete, the program uploads its results, and obtains its next assignments.

The assignments consist of protein models for the viruses being studied, and a couple of compounds to be compared against those protein models. Viruses depend on certain proteins for their reproduction. Compounds that will bond to those proteins can block the virus’s reproduction, and thus halt the spread of the disease through the body.

This project is spearheaded by an organization called World Community Grid, and sponsored by IBM. IBM engineers work to ensure that the program is safe to run on your computer, and won't unduly tax your machines’ resources.

I’ve installed the program on three of my personal machines, and have noticed no slowdowns or other problems.

This is the link to the world community grid. There you can learn a great deal more about the project, sign up to volunteer, and download the software.

I hope you'll join us. It would be a wonderful thing to put these diseases in the same category as polio: Defeated!

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Blog Contributed By Wes Peterson:

Wes Peterson is a Senior Programmer Analyst with Prestwood IT Solutions where he develops custom Windows software and custom websites using .Net and Delphi. When Wes is not coding for clients, he participates in this online community. Prior to his 10-year love-affair with Delphi, he worked with several other tools and databases. Currently he specializes in VS.Net using C# and VB.Net. To Wes, the .NET revolution is as exciting as the birth of Delphi.

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