Mobile News

Imperial College taps volunteer smartphones for cancer research


Imperial College London (ICL) and the Vodafone Foundation – the charitable arm of mobile network operator Vodafone – have developed and launched a mobile application that will use spare smartphone processing power to analyse data for use in cancer research.

The DreamLab app forms part of the Drug Repositioning Using Grids of Smartphones (Drugs) project, with the ICL team led by Kiril Veselkov of the university’s Department of Surgery and Cancer.

Veselkov’s team have designed and deployed an algorithm that breaks down massive medical datasets into smaller chunks. DreamLab, when installed on a volunteer’s smartphone, steps in to analyse these manageable chunks of data in the middle of the night, when the volunteers are sleeping.

“We are currently generating huge volumes of health data around the world every day, but just a fraction of this is being put to use,” said Veselkov.

“By harnessing the processing power of thousands of smartphones, we can tap into this invaluable resource and look for clues in the datasets. Ultimately, this could help us to make better use of existing drugs and find more effective combinations of drugs tailored to patients, thereby improving treatments.”

The app will look for links between datasets that could match the genetic profiles of patients to the optimal mix of cancer treatment drugs, resulting in a bespoke treatment regimen – currently the drugs that are used to fight cancer are generally dictated by the type of cancer tissue a patient has.

Imperial said using a mobile cloud-based processing approach should drastically cut the time needed to sift through the datasets. It said one desktop with an eight-core processor running 24/7 would take 300 years to process it, but 100,000 smartphones running six hours a day would bring this down to three months.

In the long run, the hope is that the work will speed up access to effective drugs to treat cancer quicker and more effectively.

“DreamLab is a great example of the transformative power of connectivity and technology,” said Vodafone Foundation director Andrew Dunnett.

“This innovative app gives everyone the chance to play a part in the fight against cancer while they sleep. We hope DreamLab will significantly increase the speed at which Imperial College and other researchers are able to make breakthroughs in cancer research, ultimately saving lives.”

Imperial’s vice-president of innovation, David Gann, added: “Through harnessing distributed computing power, DreamLab is helping to make personalised medicine a reality. This project demonstrates how Imperial’s innovative research partnerships with corporate partners and members of the public are working together to tackle some of the biggest problems we face today, generating real societal impact.”          

The app will be made free to download and free of data restrictions for Vodafone customers. Users of other networks will be able to choose how much of their data plans they want to let DreamLab use, or simply to connect by Wi-Fi.



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