App borrows smartphones to help research Alzheimer's cures

Folding@Home technology has been used in games consoles and computers, and now on phones

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The Independent Tech

Sony has released an app for its phones that will allow them to help cure Alzheimer's while their owners are sleeping.

The app uses the phone’s processing power, while it’s not being used, to help scientists.

For many years, Folding@Home has been helping run a study of a process central to Alzheimer's and cancer known as “protein folding”. It helps run a computer simulation of the process to create models that can then be studied by scientists.

The app, which is available on the Google Play store now for Xperia Z and other smartphones, kicks in when a phone is fully charged, plugged in and connected to wifi. The processor is then borrowed to help with the Folding@Home simulation.

Vijay Pande, a doctor in chemistry at Stanford and a key member of the team on the project, said that the a new step forward would need about 150,000 “phone-days”, or one phone working for one day. But he pointed out that divided between 10,000 phones, that would be reduced to only two weeks.

“The increase in computing capacity is having a real effect on what we can achieve, for example our work was recently used in a paper that featured in the Journal of Medical Chemistry on small-molecule drug candidates for the treatment of Alzheimers,” said Pande.

“It’s not a cure yet, but it is a major step forward, that brings a cure closer. There’s some light at the end of the tunnel and it’s down to these huge computer networks.”

The app has launched in beta today, and will be available for all smartphones running Android 4.4 and above at some time in early 2015.

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