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Make your smartphone a supercomputer for World Cancer Day and fight cancer while you sleep

4 Feb 2019Technology news
3 minute read
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Let your smartphone become an overnight superhero by downloading the DreamLab app. Picture credit: Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash

Each year, 9.6 million people around the world die from cancer.

It touches all of us – even more so if you live in an emerging market economy, where 70% of these deaths occur. And that’s in large part because 90% of low and middle income states have no access to chemotherapy.

World Cancer Day happens on 4 February, and has done since 2000. It aims to promote research, prevent cancer, improve patient services, raise awareness and mobilise the global community.

To mark this, the Vodafone Foundation and Imperial College London are calling on people to extend World Cancer Day into World Cancer Night by downloading the DreamLab app, helping to speed up cancer research.

DreamLab, developed by the Vodafone Foundation, crowdsources the processing power of thousands of smartphones while they lie unused overnight to analyse existing data. It was launched originally by Vodafone Foundation Australia, in partnership with the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Hello Sunday Morning.


This virtual supercomputer crunches thousands of calculations while you sleep, speeding up research by decades. More powerful than regular desktop computers, as user numbers increase, so does the speed at which the research is conducted.

“DreamLab is a revolutionary project – it’s a completely different, easy and direct way that people can help cancer research,” said Helen Lamprell, Vodafone Foundation trustee.

“The work done so far has resulted in scientists at Imperial College making some potentially life changing progress. We need as many people as possible to download the DreamLab app on World Cancer Day so that, together, we can really make a difference.”

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Imperial College’s research programme - named Project DRUGS - aims to make better use of existing drugs and quickly find more effective combinations of drugs to improve cancer treatments. It also helps tailor combinations of drugs to individual profiles.

Imperial College scientists estimate that if 10,000 people download the app on World Cancer Day, the nation could collectively crunch 100,000 additional calculations, helping to make crucial progress in their cancer research and ultimately help save lives.

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Dr Kiril Veselkov of Imperial College London says the project is ready to move to the next phase.

“Thanks to our people-powered supercomputing through DreamLab, we have completed our first project phase which has found individual drug combinations that are tailored to patient genetics. We have also identified promising drug candidates for further study,” said Dr Kirill Veselkov, assistant professor in computational medicine at Imperial College.

“Now, we are ready to take the leap into the next phases where we will research effective drug or food combinations in the treatment of cancer.

“This is a much more complex process and requires even more computing power to crunch tens of millions of calculations - that is why we need smartphone owners to help our research by downloading and using the app each night while they sleep. What better time to start than World Cancer Day?”

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The app turns your phone into part of a virtual supercomputer to fight cancer. Picture credit: Vodafone Foundation

DreamLab works as an AI-simulated trial of a particular combination of existing drugs or food-based molecules against a specific network of cancer genes. Hundreds of millions of calculations are required to come up with treatments that have a good chance of success.

Since launching in May 2018 DreamLab has been downloaded by over 73,799 people, with 5.9 million data calculations completed to date. In just eight months, DreamLab users have delivered the same results that a desktop computer running 24 hours a day would take 50 years to do.

The app is available on the App store for iOS or Play Store for Android. It’s free to download and free to use for Vodafone customers if you’re in the UK, meaning it doesn’t eat into data allowances. You can also use it over WiFi.

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