Assistant Professor Muhammad Zaman recently introduced Cellular Environment in Living Systems @Home or CELS@Home for short.
According to the report, the program already has more than 1,000 computer users worldwide contributing to the project, and the numbers keep growing."We have launched a global effort to recreate the in vivo environment of cancer cells in a computer model.This allows us to perform virtual experiments and study processes that are too costly or technically very difficult to study," says Zaman, who also directs the Laboratory for Molecular and Cellular Dynamics.
"By recreating this whole 'system of processes inside a cancer cell' we will be in a position to fully comprehend the problem and hopefully identify targets that will one day translate into anti-cancer drugs."He
says only a background program (or screensaver) needs to be downloadedâ€"at no cost to the userâ€"to contribute to the CELS@Home effort.A computational program then runs whenever the screensaver is activated, requiring no effort on the part of the user to run the program or report the computations."It's a completely passive approach," Zaman
says."There are no viruses or no spam that can compromise the performance of their machines."Among the approximate 1,000 users, there have been no instances of computer problems, he
says.Users are from countries such as: Argentina, Australia, China, Denmark, France, Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Venezuela.Zaman
emphasizes the project also will stress dialogue and communication with the worldwide users, which he
hopes will number 100,000 people someday."We'll soon have forums where contributors from all over the world will be able to provide feedback to us about what are some of the most challenging problems in cancer that they would like to study," he
says."Thus, we are making a global effort to solve a global problem."Already, the program has yielded enough information in just two months for two journal articles."What took months can be done now in days or weeks," Zaman
says CELS@Home goes beyond traditional grid computing to incorporate a multi-scale systems biology approach."Instead of studying one molecule or one gene, it is studying a host of problems in cancer," Zaman
says."Cancer, as we know, is not a disease of a single gene or a single cell, but in fact it is a problem that involves thousands of genes, signals and molecular components.Understanding cancer requires understanding the system in its proper context, not just a tiny bit of the problem."He
says computations may take one day, one week or a month to complete, depending on the user's amount of idle time and computer speed.Any amount of idle time is beneficial, Zaman