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Feature - Volunteer computing against childhood cancer

Feature - Volunteer computing against childhood cancer

Image courtesy of WCG.

Researchers from the Chiba Cancer Center Research Institute and Chiba University in Japan are launching a new World Community Grid project with IBM to discover a drug treatment for neuroblastoma, the most common cause of death in children with solid tumors. Help Fight Childhood Cancer, as the project is known, uses idle computational power from volunteers' home and office computers to identify promising drug candidates.

Most physicians believe that neuroblastoma is caused by accidental cell growth that occurs during normal development of the sympathetic ganglia and adrenal glands. This condition occurs most often the first two years of life, and poses a high risk for disease relapse with survival rates under 40 percent.

The new Help Fight Childhood Cancer project uses volunteered computational power to identify which of the three million potential drug candidates prohibit growth of three proteins, TrkB, ALK and SCxx, believed to be key in the progression of the cancer.

"Our promising research will be further advanced by the free computing power we will use from World Community Grid," said Akira Nakagawara, the principal investigator at the Chiba Cancer Center Research Institute. "It would take us about 100 years using our own computing resources to make progress, but with access to one of the world's largest virtual supercomputers, we estimate to complete this project in two years, and begin laboratory trials."

Akira Nakagawara, flanked by colleagues Tyuji Hoshino and Yutaka Tamura, both of Chiba University.

Image courtesy of chiba-cc.jp

Nakagawara earned the Princess Takamatsu Cancer Research Fund Prize in 2008 for his neuroblastoma research. He discovered that the protein TrkB is expressed at high levels, or abnormally mutated, in aggressive neuroblastomas, and that it enhances the tumor cells' growth. The Help Fight Childhood Cancer project will conduct complex chemistry simulations of drug candidates to identify those that bind to and disable TrkB and the two other identified proteins, so that scientists can test them in the laboratory. The researchers plan to make their results available to the general scientific community to advance the field of cancer biology and drug discovery.

"We have the potential to find a drug treatment for one of the most common childhood cancers in our lifetime. It's the volunteers who sign up to allow their computers to be used, coupled with innovative grid technology, that can make the difference," said Stanley S. Litow, Vice President, IBM, Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs and President of the IBM International Foundation. "World Community Grid has been an innovative resource for researchers who have promising projects yet lack the funding and availability to the world's largest supercomputers."

-Sandra Dressel, IBM communications

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