Turbotodd

Ruminations on IT, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

IBM And Scripps Foundation: Crowdsourcing A Cure For Malaria

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Consider this: In 2006, 247 million people became infected with malaria.

Nearly 1 million deaths are caused by malaria each year and 85 percent of those are children, who die from the disease at a rate of one every 30 seconds.

In fact, malaria is the leading cause of death in Africa for those under age five.

According to the World Health Organization, malaria is both a disease of poverty and a cause of poverty; survivors are often subject to impaired learning, school absences, lost work and increased economic distress. Where prevalent, the disease can account for 40 percent of all public health costs.  

There is no reliable cure or vaccine for the prevention and treatment of all forms of malaria — particularly the drug-resistant strains caused by Plasmodium falciparum, which kills more people than any other parasite and is of particular interest to the researchers.

Crowdsourcing A Cure For Malaria 

IBM’s Watson computing system broke new ground earlier this year when it defeated two celebrated human competitors on the “Jeopardy!” game show.

Now, The Scripps Research Institute is hoping to do something equally novel but more critical to human health with part of the prize money from that tournament: Find a cure for drug-resistant malaria.

And it’s asking for the public’s help.

Scripps Research and IBM are encouraging anyone in the world with a personal computer to join World Community Grid (WCG), a sort of “supercomputer of the people” that will crunch numbers and perform simulations for “GO Fight Against Malaria”—the project that Scripps Research and IBM have launched. 

World Community Grid is fed by spare computing power from the nearly 2 million PCs that have been volunteered so far by 575,000 people in more than 80 countries. 

Now that’s crowdsourcing!

Breaking It Down Into Wee Bits

WCG gives each PC small computing assignments to perform when the devices aren’t otherwise being used by its owners, then sends the results to scientists seeking a faster way to cure disease, find renewable energy materials, create clean water techniques, or develop healthier food staples.

Or, in this case, perform simulations for the fight against malaria.

Scripps Research, which has already used World Community Grid to discover two promising new inhibitors of HIV to advance the treatment of multi-drug-resistant AIDS, is now taking on the malaria project as well.

By tapping into World Community Grid — which turned seven years old just this past week — Scripps Research scientists hope to compress 100 years of computations normally necessary for the effort into just one year.

The scientists will use this resource to more quickly evaluate millions of compounds that may advance the development of drugs to cure mutant, drug-resistant strains of malaria.

Data from the experiments will then be made available to the public.

Elementary, My Dear Watson

Earlier this year, scientists for seven World Community Grid projects received half the $1 million first-place prize from the “Jeopardy!” game show tournament that saw IBM’s Watson computing system compete successfully against two former human champions.

Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, was built by a team of IBM scientists who set out to overcome a longstanding scientific challenge—building a computing system that rivals a human’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence.

“Working on malaria started as a hobby that I advanced during nights and weekends for a couple years, when I wasn’t working on FightAIDS@Home,” said Alex L. Perryman, Ph.D., a research associate in Scripps Research Professor Arthur Olson’s lab. “With persistence and a lot of help from IBM and from fellow Scripps Research scientists, we are now ready to launch the largest computational research project ever performed against drug-resistant malaria.”

The team at Scripps Research successfully proposed a project whose design and development would benefit from the winnings.  Perryman, who describes the malaria project in more detail here, explained that “Without the funding provided by some of the money that Watson won on “Jeopardy!,” this Global Online Fight Against Malaria project would not have been possible.”

Background: World Community Grid

World Community Grid is one of IBM’s exciting philanthropic initiatives. Founded in 2004 and running on Berkeley Open Infrastructre for Network Computing (BOINC) software, it provides computational power available to scientists who might not otherwise be able to afford the high speed computing they require for timely research.

To date, 19 research projects have been hosted on World Community Grid, spinning off 30 peer-reviewed papers.

Nine of the projects it has hosted have generated particularly promising results that are being further researched, or followed up with a second phase on World Community Grid.

If it were a physical supercomputer, World Community Grid would be one of the world’s 15 fastest such machines.

Go here to learn more and to participate in this important new research effort and help the global fight against malaria.

Written by turbotodd

November 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm

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