Reg readers devote 1600 years to cancer cure quest

Unused CPU cycles donated to beating disease

The Register's valiant band of Cancer Busters continue to generously dedicate their unused CPU cycles to sniffing out potential cures of the disease.

Some 2671 Reg readers are currently running special software that grabs unused processor time to analyse research data generated by Department of Chemistry at the University of Oxford in the UK and the National Foundation for Cancer Research in the US. Every computer's contribution counts toward the massive task of screening molecules that may be developed into drugs to fight cancer.

The project is sponsored by IBM Life Science Solutionsand hosted by United Devices' special web site, grid.org.

Formed just over two years ago, Vulture Central II - Vulture Central I is our SETI@home team - has gone on to become the number four team in the league, contributing a staggering 1600 years' worth of processor time to the search, testing over 1.5 million compounds for cancer-killing potential. Only by connecting team computers across the Internet into a massive co-operative network can the vast number of possible cancer-beating molecules be tested in time to make a difference.

The software works like a screensaver: it churns through research data when your computer isn't being used, clocking off when you need to use your machine, and kicking back in when you stop.

Each individual computer analyses just a few molecules and then sends the results back over the Internet for further research. The software identifies molecules that interact with proteins that have been determined to be possible targets for cancer therapy. The process has been likened to finding the right key to open a specific lock by trying millions upon millions of keys, one after the other. It might take a single machine millions of years to test all the molecular keys, but the more computers join the project, the more molecules can be tried in the shortest possible time.

Top team member Dave_NCL alone has contributed the equivalent of more than 232 year' processing time and tested nearly 157,000 molecules. Well done, Dave - drop us a line and we'll send you some Reg goodies to show our appreciation.

To join the team, you need to download the United Devices Agent software from here (Win 98, ME, NT 4.0 SP5+, 2k, XP only - UD has no plans for Linux or Mac clients, alas). It's a 1.6MB download, so shouldn't take too long. Running the setup software installs the molecular testing code and prompts you to enter your login name and choose a password.

When you're down, point your browser to the Vulture Central II team page and click on the Join This Team button. The page also shows the team's progress.

We should point out that United Devices hosts other grid computing applications, including the iffy PatriotGrid. If you don't want to help the US military combat bioterror weapons (or develop their own, for all we know), you'll need to switch that option off after registering.

To so do, click on the 'Tick in a box' (preferences icon). Click Modify Device Profile. This will open a browser window. Login with your username and password. Click on the Profiles tab. Select your profile and click Edit. Uncheck the PatriotGrid box at the bottom of the page.

Thanks to reader Clive Morely for that info. ®