Networking for Humanity

World Community Grid lets individuals and businesses donate their computers’ idle time to disease research.

Imagine a world without cancer, hunger, AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis. While there is still a long way to go in the fight to cure these afflictions, scientists are getting closer to finding the answers they are looking for thanks to something called World Community Grid.

In the fall of 2004, IBM donated the hardware, software, technical services and expertise to build the infrastructure for World Community Grid (WCG), which joins together many individual computers to create a large system with massive computational power. Individuals, schools and corporations donate the time their computers are turned on, but are idle, to perform research calculations for projects that benefit humanity. Because there are so many computers doing the work at one time, research time is reduced significantly from years to months.

It only takes a few minutes to sign up and download the free WCG client software at worldcommunitygrid.org, and the only requirement is a computer with Internet access. Plus, members can rest assured that the WCG website is 100 percent secure, so there’s no chance of their computers getting hacked.

As the lead researcher for WCG’s Discovering Dengue Drugs—Together project, Dr. Stan Watowich knows that he has a long and challenging road ahead of him. Currently, there are about 100,000 people with dengue fever in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. The situation has grown so dire that the military was called in to help control the outbreak. However, with the help of WCG, the journey toward aiding dengue patients has already been shortened.

“Without the use of the grid, it would take our computers dozens and dozens of years to enter all of these calculations, Watowich said. “We hope that, through using the grid, we can reduce the time down to a year or two. That is the goal right now.”

Watowich explained that there are two different phases to his project. The first phase, which is projected to take about a year, involves using the grid to study molecules to help find candidate drugs for dengue fever, hepatitis C, West Nile virus and yellow fever. The second phase will involve testing possible candidate drugs and moving them closer to the point where they can be used for treatment.

To date, WCG has over 350,000 members and over 1 million registered devices. Currently there are six active projects doing research including: Nutritious Rice for the World, Help Conquer Cancer, AfricanClimate@Home, Discovering Dengue Drugs—Together, Human Proteome Folding-Phase 2 and FightAIDS@Home.

The level of research needed to study these worldwide issues is a computational challenge that one computer can’t do in a reasonable time frame, according to Robert Reid, manager of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs for IBM. Answers can be arrived at much more quickly when using the grid system.

“An example is the Nutritious Rice for the World project, which is working to determine which rice strains have the highest nutrient qualities,” Reid said. “This is a very important concern in places that have higher hunger ratios, and determining the structure of proteins is a very difficult and expensive process.”

Reid said another research project, FightAIDS@Home, is looking at computational ways to determine new drug therapies for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Those analyses, he said, are based on molecular structure and model how different drugs interact with various HIV virus mutations.

He added that WCG projects are a really great way that individuals and institutions can help the world. “It’s such an easy way to contribute to a great cause,” he said. “It does the work for you while you step out for lunch or take a bathroom break. I think of it as a high-tech version of those rubber awareness bracelets worn to support various causes.”

Reid is not alone in his quest to inform people about the importance of grid computing. Watowich believes that grid computing is a win-win situation for everyone. “People should view this as a way that they can make a difference in the world. It’ll be a small difference at first,” he said. “It doesn’t cost you anything to put your computer on the grid, and you get to help out a drug development program. Here is this computer that you invested all of this money in, and it’s doing some very serious, worthwhile research.”

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Reader Comments


Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 10:50 PM
anonymous says:
We live in a world where positive advancements for the whole is a win win .
Friday, July 25, 2008 at 1:27 PM
bbover3 says:
Great article. As a reader, you can help by donating the unused cycles of your PC or Laptop (Windows, Linux, or Mac). Just go to http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org and follow the Join Now steps.

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