You, cancer fighter

The fight against cancer has a new weapon: you.

If you want an idea of the power in your hands, know this: less than 50 years ago NASA ran an entire space programme that put astronauts on the moon, using the combined computing power that’s a minuscule fraction of that of your smartphone.

And here’s the kicker – most of your smartphone power is wasted. But now you can do something about that.

Here are some dots, see if you can connect them:

Dot 1: Research into cancer produces eye-wateringly huge amounts of data that need to be processed on large, very powerful, computers.

Dot 2: Algorithms now exist to package such data into manageable chunks that can be processed on smaller computers.

Dot 3: Your smartphone is such a computer.

Dots connected? Great, because Imperial College in London has launched a funky-looking app called DreamLab that essentially turns every smartphone with the app into a mini lab computer. The focus: cancer research. DreamLab uses an algorithm to crunch masses of data from cancer research to be processed on these mini lab computers.

Okay, so that’s the ‘lab’ in DreamLab. So where does the ‘dream’ bit come in? That’s the best part. All this happens while the smartphone user is sleeping. The app has been designed to only kick in at nighttime when the phone is not being used, and when it’s charging and connected to a wifi network. The processed data are then sent back to the researchers.

The team behind the app have calculated that if the average smartphone can solve around 24,000 problems in a single night, with enough phones working together as a network, what could take them years to process could be done in a matter of months. Basically, the team at Imperial College are using the collective power of smartphones to fast track cancer research.

The only problem: they now need lots of smartphones. That’s where you come in. You could be a soldier in the fight against cancer, whilst you’re asleep, dreaming.

Soldiers need to be armed, though. The DreamLab smartphone app is free to download on either iOS via the Apple App Store or on Android devices through Google Play.


[This article originally appeared in the publication Fox Bytes – you can read it here – and on the mindofafox Growing Foxes app in the week of 7 May 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. The app serves to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more]