Screen saver will aid search for cancer cure

April 12, 2001

Forget flying windows screen savers during those idle moments - help to solve the riddle of cancer instead.

Researchers from Oxford University hope that as many as 1 million people will download screen saver-like software that will harness unused computer processing power to screen millions of molecule packages.

Keith Davies, an Oxford research fellow who devised the software, said the project should shave two years off the search for molecules that could become a new generation of cancer drugs.

He hopes subscribers will sign up for more than one package of molecules, which takes less than three minutes to download. When the calculations are completed, results will be sent back to Oxford's Centre for Computational Drug Discovery.

More than 250 million molecules will be screened in a bid to develop more effective treatments for cancer that have fewer side effects than chemotherapy.

Dr Davies said it was the first time distributed computing via the net had been used on such a scale for serious research. Despite advances in technology, the scale of the project is so great that even a supercomputer could not screen so many molecules in a lifetime, he said. Internet-distributed computing also has the advantage of costing researchers very little.

The project is a collaboration with United States charity the National Foundation for Cancer Research, which funds the Oxford centre, along with networking developers United Devices and Intel. Participants can download the molecule packages from the firms' or Oxford's websites.


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