Santa Clara, Calif. The fight against cancer gained a powerful ally Tuesday: the promise of up to 6 million personal computers working in concert to uncover new treatments for leukemia.
The project aims to enlist people willing to let their home and office PCs analyze data when the machines are otherwise not being used.
Each computer will download a piece of a computational challenge in this case, the analysis of the cancer-fighting properties of 250 million molecules. When each computer finishes its piece of work, it will ship the data back to researchers, who will further study the most promising results.
"It's putting at the hands of researchers a computing resource that otherwise they would never be able to afford or get access to," said Pat Gelsinger, chief technology officer of the architecture group at Intel Corp., one of the project's sponsors.
Depending on how many people participate and Gelsinger is hoping for as many as 6 million the time required to develop new drugs could be cut to as little as five years from the current 12, researchers said.
The project, based at Oxford University, is also sponsored by the National Foundation for Cancer Research.
The project uses distributed computing, which spreads tasks among many machines using peer-to-peer technology. It is the same idea behind Napster, though processing power, not music, is shared in this case.
"We think this is the opportunity to position peer-to-peer computing much more broadly than just Napster," Gelsinger said. "We can start to show other very significant benefits from the approach."
It is not the first time distributed computing has been used in the name of science. Since 1999, nearly 3 million Internet users have taken part in an effort to analyze radio signals for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth.