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Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you

Vodafone, Garvan Institute team up to make your mobile crack cancer

We can’t all be scientists, but with an app, we might just be able to help them, and you can do it all from the comfort of your bed while you sleep.

Ever wanted to be a part of the effort that was responsible for cracking cancer? There are lots of different types, and lots of different research teams working on that problem, with much of it needing immense computer resources to crunch the numbers and crack the code.

While modern hardware like graphics processors from the high-performance computing world can help, folks from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have teamed up with the Vodafone Foundation and turned to regular people, relaunching an app that now makes it even simpler for everyone to help.

To help, you need a smartphone or tablet, and specifically one that runs either Apple’s operating system of iOS (iPhone, iPad) or that of Google’s Android (pretty much everything else), and then you just need the app, as DreamLab is required to help.

DreamLab is essentially a distributed computing tool, allowing you to help decode the information researchers need to break various cancers open, essentially providing them access to buckets of computer power they may not have.

Particularly, there are two as part of the DreamLab app, with “Project Decode” for the decoding of data from breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancers, while “Project Genetic Profile” handles brain, lunch, melanoma, and sarcoma cancers.

Decoding this information isn’t necessarily an indication that the cancer is almost cured, however, but it will help researchers get closer, breaking down the data in small chunks through an app that uses your phone while you sleep, and while it’s plugged in and charging for your next day.

“DreamLab is helping us tackle the huge amount of data that we’re producing by sequencing or ‘decoding’ the DNA of cancer patients,” said Professor David Thomas, Head of the Cancewr Division at the Garvan Institute.

“Cancer is a disease of the DNA, so by crunching and analysing this data, we hope to understand more about cancer, how to detect, diagnose and treat it better,” he said.

Technically, the project isn’t so dissimilar from the various distributed computing efforts that have seen the light of day over the years. While the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence or “SETI” has easily had the most popular, the PlayStation 3 supported a cancer-cracking version of distributing computer for some time.

What makes Dreamlab a little different, however, is that the research you’re helping to make a breakthrough on goes straight to Australian scientists working on the problems, and that if you happen to be a Vodafone customer, your data for connecting to the Dreamlab app is free within Australia.

Developed by Transpire, the app will essentially take advantage of your phone’s processing power during idle time, with the developer refining the experience over the past year to make it what it is upon relaunch.

“Smartphones are now used by more than eight in ten adults in Australia, and the large majority of us have it plugged in and idle every night,” said Transpire’s Luke Smorgon.

Smorgon told Pickr that while the DreamLab app taps unused processing power, gamification has helped the app become what it is upon relaunch, complete with the feeling that they will be providing an actual contribution to the solution of cancer. For this relaunch, that includes a LinkedIn profile addition that suggests users of DreamLab are Cancer Researchers.

To date, 150,000 individuals have tried the DreamLab app, helping to solve some of the problems, and with a relaunch, both the Vodafone Foundation and Garvan Institute hope that expands to more.

“It’s only through medical research that we’ll be able to solve cancer, and medical research generates a vast amount of complex data and information that must be analysed in order to make the next discovery,” said Dr Samantha Oakes, Breast Cancer Researcher at the Garvan Instutute.

“We‘re a smartphone-obsessed nation and now we have a tremendous opportunity to use our phones to help speed up research,” she said.

The DreamLab app is available now for both iOS and Android.

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