Intel and Stanford Using P2P To Fight Alzheimer's
October 17, 2001
By Michael Singer

The latest effort to fight Alzheimer's Disease is taking advantage of some of that unused networked computing power out there on the Internet.

Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and Stanford University, with the support of the Alzheimer's Association, today announced the Stanford Alzheimer and Amyloidogenic Disease Research Program.

The program, along with a Web site,, allows computer users to download "screensavers" that run in the background when the computer is on, but not in use. This, essentially, creates a virtual network of computers donating unused computing cycles to scientific research.

The technology is similar to the kind of computing carried out by large supercomputers.

"This computing power makes it possible to do simulations that were only dreamed of before," says Stanford University Pande Group and project director Professor Vijay Pande. "Peer-to-Peer computing is likely the next computational revolution in biomedical research."

After running the downloaded file, the program is installed on the user's computer and automatically begins computing; it runs whenever computation resources are available. The program is similar to a screensaver that operates during normal computer use, without intervention by the user. Once processing is complete, typically a day later, the program sends the results back to Stanford University and requests a new packet of data the next time the user connects to the Internet.

It may be just a screen saver, but these guys are serious about the program. The Alzheimer's Association has already fronted some $120 million toward research into the causes, treatment, prevention, and cure of the disease that impacts one in 10 persons over 65 and nearly half of those over 85. Today, four million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. The organization says unless a cure or prevention is found, that number will jump to 14 million by the year 2050. Worldwide, it is estimated that 22 million individuals will develop Alzheimer's disease by the year 2025.

This is the second peer-to-peer (P2P) philanthropic program from the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant. In April, Intel announced a similar initiative to fight cancer.

"Thanks to the power of peer-to-peer technology, scientific research and the PC have become powerful allies to help fight some of the world's most damaging diseases," says Intel CTO Patrick Gelsinger. "Since we announced the effort to create the world's largest virtual supercomputer last April, more than 1 million PCs have joined Intel in the first program to aid philanthropic research. The effort has generated more computational power than the top 10 supercomputers combined in order to help increase the speed of scientific discovery."

This new scientific research program is expected to lead to a better understanding of diseases that may be caused by misfolding proteins or prions, also known as amyloidogenic diseases.

The program will help identify how and why some proteins misfold by simulating on a computer the conditions that cause proteins to misfold. By simulating the cause and effects in a program, various variables can be studied that would take a long time and be difficult to do in the lab.

The proteins that are being studied are not only specific to Alzheimer's, but also type II diabetes and Mad Cow. This research will help understand other amyloidogenic diseases as well, such as Parkinson's disease and ALS. When researchers begin to understand why some proteins misfold, it will relate to why other proteins misfold.

Researchers say the research program is not designed to directly find a drug or a cure, but by studying why these proteins misfold, scientists will begin to figure out ways to prevent and correct protein misfolding.

While not very well understood, one belief is that Alzheimer's is caused by a build up of plaques in the brain, and caused by proteins that begin folding incorrectly. This will even help scientists understand many misfolding diseases beyond Alzheimer's.

Stanford University researchers from the Pande Group created the software that performs the scientific calculations, based on TINKER by Professor Jay Ponder at Washington University, and will evaluate the program results.

Mithral Communications & Design Inc. provided the distributed software infrastructure that helps the application to perform the calculations on thousands of computers. The program incorporates a comprehensive system of security and privacy technologies to protect user privacy. This program is based on the folding@home program currently run by the Pande Group.

"We are facing a global Alzheimer epidemic and it is only through science and research that we can defeat this terrible disease," says Alzheimer's Association medical and scientific affairs vice president William Thies, Ph.D. "This innovative research program gives everyone the opportunity to contribute to solving the mysteries of Alzheimer's disease every time they turn on their personal computers."

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