A new app that uses your smartphone to find new cancer treatments has been launched by Imperial College London.
The DreamLab app has been developed by the Vodafone Foundation and Imperial College and works by breaking down huge calculations into smaller manageable sums that an individual smartphone could easily process.
The app is designed to be used at night when your smartphone is connected to power and a WiFi connection. That way the app can continuously run throughout the night performing calculations when you’re not using it.
The technology was developed at Imperial’s Department of Surgery & Cancer by Dr Kirill Veselkov and his team.
Called DRUGS (Drug Repositioning Using Grids of Smartphones), the app uses an algorithm to break down enormous datasets into manageable chunks. These small chunks are then analysed by a network of smartphones.
Ultimately each network is looking to find connections between the datasets that could identify more effective combinations of existing drugs to treat cancer. Whereas traditionally we’ve always determined the treatment based on the type of cancer tissue a person has, this new algorithm looks at genetic profiles in order to find the best treatment plan.
Using this smartphone-based approach, the team believed they can drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to perform these calculations. For example, using a standard eight-core computer running 24-hours a day it would take around 300 years to process the datasets.
Dr Kirill Veselkov, said: “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. 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.”
However with 100,000 smartphones running just six hours a night that same amount of data could be processed in just three months.
A brand-new smartphone can run up to 60 calculations and solve around 24,000 problems in just a single night.
Vodafone has said that for any of its mobile customers who want to download the app the data used will not go towards their monthly allowance. Those on other networks, any mobile data used will count towards your monthly allowance so the advice is to make sure that you use it at night when you’re connected to a stable WiFi network.
DreamLab isn’t the first time that a company has harnessed the power of smartphones in order to crunch huge calculations or help further medical research. HTC’s Power To Give program was developed in partnership with the University Of Berkely and allowed Android users to donate their phone’s processing power to major research projects around the globe.
Then there was Sea Hero Quest, a game developed by the University of East Anglia to help further Alzheimer’s research by monitoring people’s memory skills.
Finally there’s Apple’s own ResearchKit which has spawned a whole library of apps developed by Universities to collect data on conditions ranging from irregular heartbeats to diabetes.