Your Computer Can Volunteer, Too

By: Caitlin Larkin

Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire

You probably remember when the Ebola virus became news in 2014, after it killed thousands of people. Erica Ollmann Saphire (pictured above), a structural biologist at The Scripps Research Institute, and one of the world’s foremost experts on Ebola, understood the molecular structure of the disease—and she knew its weak spots. She had a plan of attack to find an antiviral drug. Her first step was to study millions of chemical compounds to determine their potential as the basis for this drug. Testing just one compound in a laboratory, however, could take years. Computer-based simulations would help reduce the time needed for this testing by predicting the lab outcomes, but Saphire didn’t have access to computers powerful enough to run these simulations.

So she turned to World Community Grid. Within a few months, tens of thousands of World Community Grid volunteers provided the processing power needed to simulate millions of chemical compound interactions, drastically accelerating the hunt for life-saving antiviral drugs. This ongoing project is helping Saphire and her research team outsmart the Ebola virus. And World Community Grid is also helping researchers search for new and better ways to treat adult and childhood cancer, tuberculosis, AIDS, Zika, and autoimmune diseases.

As a philanthropic initiative of IBM, World Community Grid enables anyone with a computer or Android device to donate unused processing power to scientific research on health, poverty and sustainability.

Here’s how it works: As a World Community Grid volunteer, you download a secure software program to your computer. And when your computer has any unused processing power, it will run a simulated experiment for our research partners in the background. As we receive the results of these simulations, we send them back to scientists who are running each study. The scientists analyze the data and are able to home in on the results that appear most promising, saving research dollars and allowing them to conduct research that might not otherwise be possible.

There is no treatment for the Zika virus, and no cure. Dr. Carolina Andrade is leading an international study that uses the power of World Community Grid to screen millions of chemical compounds as potential Zika treatments. Photo Credit: World Community Grid

Since World Community Grid was created in 2004, scientists have used its power to find new and better treatments for neuroblastoma (a devastating childhood cancer), a novel method of water filtration that could help bring clean water to millions who currently lack it, and 35,000 promising candidates for solar cell materials. These scientific breakthroughs would not have been possible without the volunteers around the globe who generously donate their unused computing power.

With thousands of volunteers running millions of simulations, we can get crucial research started in just a few years, instead of decades. And in keeping with World Community Grid’s open data policy, scientists who partner with us make their data publicly available to other scientists, which will help accelerate the advancement of scientific knowledge.

It’s free, quick and easy to participate. Just register, select the causes you care about, and then install the software on your computer or Android device. Then, you use your device as you always do. World Community Grid never comes into contact with your data. It is regularly audited and protected with high levels of security.

More than 730,000 volunteers from 80 countries around the world have joined us. We hope you’ll learn more and join us, too.

Caitlin Larkin handles communications for World Community Grid, a philanthropic initiative of IBM.

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Categories: Apps, Citizen Science, Citizen Science News, Guest Contributor, Health

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