You can now help find a cure for cancer simply by charging your phone

By harnessing the power of thousands of phones as they’re plugged into charge, a new app from Vodafone could help find a cure for cancer. 

Called DreamLab, the app uses the collective processing power of people’s smartphones to help analyse swathes of data from the department of surgery and cancer at Imperial College London. It forms part of a larger project, called DRUGS (Drug Repositioning Using Grids of Smartphones), led by Dr Kirill Veselkov who has designed an algorithm to break datasets into small chunks.

 Through DreamLab, the smartphone power will be used to analyse the data and find links between sets which could help reveal more effective combinations of existing drugs to treat cancer. Traditionally, cancer treatments are determined by the type of cancer tissue a patient has, so this research could create large-scale genetic profiles to help find the best cancer treatment for individuals.

“DreamLab is a great example of the transformative power of connectivity and technology,” said Andrew Dunnett, director of the Vodafone Foundation. “This app gives everyone the chance to play a part in the fight against cancer while they sleep. We hope DreamLab will significantly increase the speed at which Imperial College and other researchers are able to make breakthroughs in cancer research, ultimately saving lives”.

The project claims that a desktop computer with an eight-core processor running 24-hours a day would take 300 years to process the data. A network of 100,000 smartphones running six hours a night “could do the job in just three months”. In particular, a new device can run up to 60 calculations, solving up to 24,000 problems when fully charged and plugged in. 

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“We are currently generating huge volumes of health data around the world every day, but just a fraction of this is being put to use,” continued Dr Kirill Veselkov. “By harnessing the processing power of thousands of smartphones, we can tap into this invaluable resource and look for clues in the datasets. Ultimately, this could help us to make better use of existing drugs and find more effective combinations of drugs tailored to patients, thereby improving treatments.”

The app is free to download from iOS and Android, and is free to use for Vodafone customers, meaning it doesn’t use monthly data allowances. The app can also be used across other networks but users will either need to  choose how much data they wish to donate to the cause, or simply connect via Wi-Fi.

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