Medical Moment: Supercomputer for medical research

Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 8:09 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Volunteers from across the world are coming together to create one of the largest super computers in the world!

It’s one that may hold the answers to Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and even COVID-19.

Computer fans, school kids, and pro athletes are using their personal computers to get to the very root of the problem. And you can get involved, too.

Greg Bowman, a computational biophysicist at the Washington University School of Medicine, is the man behind one of the largest computer crowdsourcing networks called Folding@home. He is looking to cure diseases, including his own.

“My interest in proteins really stems from a childhood experience of losing most of my vision to a juvenile form of macular degeneration,” Bowman says.

Bowman’s eyesight has been fading since second grade. Although legally blind, Bowman is studying proteins. Something so small, that nobody can see them.

“These are the molecular machines that perform most of the active processes associated with life,” he says.

Breaking down a single protein can take even the most complex of computers a lifetime. So, from his office at Washington University, Bowman is using millions of computers around the world to do the work.

“What we’ve done is devised ways to break these essentially intractable problems up into completely independent pieces that we can send out to many thousands of people to run in parallel,” he says.

Folding@home aims to understand how proteins move or fold into their proper shapes to keep our bodies running. Four million people from every country in the world are helping to find the answers.

“It’s kind of like a synergy, like each on their own independent, wouldn’t be able to achieve what they could achieve when working together towards the same common goal,” says Mohammad Syed, citizen scientist in New Zealand.

“The more computers you contribute the better, but anyone can help accelerate the simulations that we’re performing,” Bowman says.

Many large corporations are already on board. Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco, and Oracle are using their computers. Even pro sports have jumped in to help, including the Spanish professional soccer league.

With the new surge of participants, Folding@home now has more raw computing power than the world’s largest 500 traditional supercomputers combined.

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