School of Information Technologies
The University of Sydney
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Research News

Help Defeat Cancer...with your computer: SoIT joins World Community Grid

World Community Grid

Imagine if the power of each of the world’s estimated 650 million PCs were linked to focus on defeating cancer.

To make this dream a reality, the Sydney University IT School has become a partner of World Community Grid, joining the IBM Corporation and a group of more than 200 leading companies, foundations, associations and academic institutions.

Launched by the IBM Corporation in November 2004, World Community Grid uses grid technology to harness the plentiful, underutilized resource of PCs and laptops worldwide to support humanitarian research. Today, hundreds of thousand of volunteers around the globe are donating their idle computer cycles, and World Community Grid is harnessing this power to help advance promising humanitarian research projects. Results on critical health issues have already been achieved, demonstrating World Community Grid’s potential to make significant inroads on a great range of future projects that can benefit the world.

On July 20, 2006, World Community Grid launched a new effort that will assist in cancer research using the massive computational power of World Community Grid. The “Help Defeat Cancer” project will use World Community Grid to analyze tissue microarrays (TMA) – a new investigative tool that will ultimately help doctors select proper treatments and provide accurate prognosis for cancer patients.

“As a result of the Help Defeat Cancer project, World Community Grid makes it possible to analyze in one day the number of specimens that would take approximately 130 years to complete using a traditional computer,” said Dr. David J. Foran, lead researcher and professor of pathology and director of the Center for Biomedical Imaging at the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and co-director of the Immunohistochemistry shared resources program of The Cancer Institute of New Jersey. “Without World Community Grid, TMAs are processed in individual or small batches that are analyzed on standard computers.”

Through TMA, researchers arrange micro-sections of hundreds of different, but related, cancer specimens (or tissue samples) on a single microscope glass slide. The specimens are carefully selected and organized so that researchers can compare them to each other. Currently, the methods to evaluate tissue microarrays involve the manual, interactive review of samples or the digitizing of samples for quantitative assessment. Both procedures are slow, tedious and prone to human error.

Researchers at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Rutgers University and UMDNJ – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, created a web-based, robotic prototype that can automatically analyze, archive, share, and create images of digitized tissue microarrays, which will allow scientists to better study cancer and its effects. World Community Grid will take this work to a new level by deploying massive computer power to enable more complex comparisons to run much more quickly and accurately.

Ultimately, the project will give researchers improved understanding of cancer biology and uncover new sub-classifications of cancer that will then point to new courses of treatment. They also will have unparalleled insight into which patient populations are most likely to respond to a given treatment regimen, while also providing information needed for future drug design.

“World Community Grid is a promising and innovative way of allowing us to assist in providing more accurate, timely and well targeted cancer diagnoses and to make a difference on problems that plague humanity” said Professor Albert Zomaya, Head of School of IT, University of Sydney, “We are proud to be a partner and help further this important research effort.”

“Help Defeat Cancer” is the third project that will take advantage of the enormous computational power offered by World Community Grid. Since November 2005, World Community Grid has been running FightAIDS@Home, which is working on finding new and effective drugs to stop the HIV virus. To date, the project has virtually screened 2,000 drug compounds against 270 wild type and mutant HIV proteases and has discovered potential leads to new therapies. Work that would have taken five years to complete was done in six months on World Community Grid.

In November 2004, World Community Grid launched the Human Proteome Folding Project, which is helping scientists understand the functions of human proteins and, ultimately, how to cure diseases like malaria and lyme disease. This project produced a database that describes the structure of approximately 150,000 protein domains that could not be described previously using traditional approaches. This database of protein structures will help scientists take the next steps to understanding how diseases that involve these proteins work and, ultimately, clues to help cure diseases like cancer, malaria and others. A second phase of the project is focusing on human-secreted proteins, which are often key markers for diagnosis of diseases.

The School of IT at the University of Sydney is encouraging our students, faculty and staff to contribute their idle computer cycles to World Community Grid. To join, individuals should go to and simply download and install a free, small software program on their computers. When idle, the computers request data from World Community Grid’s server. Computers then perform computations using this data, send the results back to the server and prompt the server for a new piece of work.

Please join World Community Grid at today! And then join the University of Sydney's IT School of IT team, 'Eden'!