Discover COVID Treatments with Your Own Computer

The World Community Grid is an effort to create the world’s largest public computing grid to tackle scientific research projects that benefit humanity. Juan Hindo leads IBM’s World Community Grid team, and she sat down with us to talk about this incredible project. Join us for Ms. Hindo’s talk on October 21st and read our interview with her below:

What is World Community Grid?

Juan Hindo

World Community Grid is an IBM Corporate Social Responsibility initiative that enables anyone with an internet connection and a computer, Android device, or Raspberry Pi to support scientific research on health and sustainability. Simply by installing the World Community Grid software application, volunteers’ devices automatically donate any unused computing power to the research projects they choose to support.

What kind of information are you looking for, exactly?

Scientists are searching the microscopic world for answers to our biggest problems, but it’s hard to know where to start.

For example, scientific research on potential treatments for COVID-19 can be akin to exploring an uncharted land, because there are millions of chemical compounds to study. Doing just the basic research in a lab could take decades.

That’s why many scientists use computer simulations to point them in the right direction, just as explorers rely on maps to find their way. But without massive computing power to complete hundreds of millions of simulations, looking for potential COVID-19 treatments can be a bit like exploring with an incomplete map.

World Community Grid turns a volunteer’s device into an explorer. Volunteers can choose one or more research projects (such as OpenPandemics – COVID-19), download the World Community Grid software application, and join a global community helping to chart the microscopic jungle.

Why do you need our personal computers for this? Why not use Watson?

Donating a supercomputer would be much less efficient and might eventually limit the number of research efforts it can support. This happens in many universities and organizations; in fact, some of the scientists we work with are unable to get enough time on supercomputers at their own institutions to do their research.

Instead, World Community Grid puts to use volunteers’ computing power, which might otherwise not be used for any purpose. It’s important to note that not only is this pooled computing power enormous, it’s also scalable for projects that need more or fewer computer simulations than the average project. Most importantly, it allows people from all walks of life to play a role in the scientific discovery process, empowering them to advance critical causes they care about. 

Artificial intelligence technologies such as Watson are beginning to become a more regular part of the computational drug discovery process. So far, the World Community Grid researchers who have used AI have done so either before or after they’ve run simulations with us rather than at the same time.

Do you think World Community Grid will help us find the “silver bullet” treatment for COVID-19?

Unfortunately, there’s not likely to be a silver bullet treatment for COVID-19, just as there are no magic bullet treatments for other coronaviruses. However, OpenPandemics – COVID-19 could not only help bring to light potential treatments for various symptoms of this disease, but the research team aims to also create a fast-response, open source toolkit that will help scientists quickly address future pandemics.

How do you think this approach will impact the cost, efficiency, and success of medical research in the future?

In scientific research, time is measured in money and lives. Quicker results mean quicker benefits for patients and more. And the enormous power of World Community Grid means that computer simulations that would have taken years or decades can be completed in months. It’s even possible for researchers to run projects that are otherwise unaffordable or unimaginable, such as comparing all the genes from all the thousands of organisms in a soil sample, modeling water flows at atomic levels of detail, or searching through an enormous index of chemical compounds to find potential treatments for COVID-19.

Additionally, World Community Grid’s open data policy requires researchers to freely share their results (including the raw data when possible) with the scientific community. This means other scientists can more easily build on the work made possible by volunteers and helps eliminate unnecessary redundancy.

Author(s)

  • Ben Marcus is a public relations specialist at CG Life and a co-editor-in-chief of Science Unsealed. He received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Chicago.