Donating computer power to fight malaria

July 18, 2006

Brussels, 17 Jul 2006

Help scientists tackle malaria by volunteering! CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is calling on people worldwide to donate some of the spare capacity on their home and business computers in order to run, a computer model for malaria epidemiology. The model aims to help improve the ability of researchers to predict, and hence control, the spread of malaria in Africa.

Malaria is the world's most frequent parasitic infection. It is a potentially deadly disease transmitted by mosquitoes, living in hot marshy regions. At least 500 million people are infected each year in the world, resulting in more than a million deaths, mostly in Africa and in young children. Malaria kills one African child every 30 seconds.

Simulation models of the transmission dynamics and health effects of malaria are an important tool for malaria control. They can be used to determine optimal strategies for delivering mosquito nets, chemotherapy, or new vaccines which are currently under development and testing. But such modelling is extremely computer intensive, requiring huge amounts of power for simulations of large human populations involving a diverse set of parameters related to biological and social factors that influence the distribution of the disease.

This is where the programme comes in. Developed by the Swiss Tropical Institute, the computer model can be downloaded onto any computer in the world from the AFRICA@home website to make scientific calculations. It does this in the background, while the computer is being used for other tasks. Results are collected at regular intervals and returned to the project team for evaluation.

In its first test phase, the Institute used 500 computers to run a malaria simulation, which, it claims, would otherwise have taken 150 years of processing time on a single computer. Speaking about the results obtained so far, Professor Tom Smith of the Swiss Tropical Institute said: 'We have already done more epidemiological modelling in a few months than we could have achieved on our own computer cluster in a few years.'

While most of the volunteer-computing power will come from the developed world - North America and Europe in particular, one of goals of the project is to involve African universities and institutions in developing and running the applications that will run on the volunteer computers. Already researchers from the University of Bamako in Mali and the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie in Bamako and in Yaound?, Cameroon, have joined the project team. 'CERN has traditionally been a meeting place for scientists from around the globe, and I am glad that we could host the joint African-European team that launched this project. This underlines our continued commitment to promoting the role of science in the information society, as emphasised at the World Summits on the Information Society in Geneva and Tunis,' said Dr Robert Aymar, Director General of CERN.

For more information, please visit: http:/// %2Dat%2Dhome/index.htm

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2006

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