An international team of leading scientists is striving to ‘smash childhood cancer’ using a people-powered virtual supercomputer.

To build the capabilities of this virtual supercomputer, medical researchers and IBM are asking people around the world to donate their “device’s spare computing power to help scientists solve the world’s biggest problems in health and sustainability”.

Scientists with free access to IBM’s World Community Grid can use the resource to accelerate scientific discovery by harnessing enhanced computing power to pinpoint promising drug candidates.

The global initiative is led by Dr Akira Nakagawara, an internationally renowned pediatric oncologist, molecular biologist and CEO of the Saga Medical Center KOSEIKAN, in Japan. Dr Nakagawara used the same research approach on a previous World Community Grid project which successfully identified drug candidates for neuroblastoma, one of the most common cancers in children.

To date, World Community Grid has connected researchers to half a billion US dollars’ worth of free supercomputing power. Partially hosted in IBM’s cloud, the game-changing resource has been fueled by 720,000 individuals and 440 institutions from 80 countries who have donated more than one million years of computing time on more than three million desktops, laptops, and Android mobile devices. Their participation has helped identify potential treatments for childhood cancer, as well as more efficient solar cells, and more efficient water filtration materials.

IBM said: “This resource is the equivalent of a virtual supercomputer that helps enable scientists to more quickly conduct millions of virtual experiments. These experiments aim to pinpoint promising drug candidates for further study.

“Volunteers don’t provide any time, money or technical expertise to assist with this research effort, called Smash Childhood Cancer. Instead, they participate in World Community Grid by downloading and installing a free app on their computer or Android devices. While otherwise idle, volunteers’ devices automatically perform virtual experiments on behalf of the research team. The results are transmitted back to researchers, where they are analyzed.”