What if we threw enough computing power at cancer research that we could find a cure? Of course we would do it. Some researchers believe computational simulations can give us enough understanding of the processes that occur within a cell that—through computational biology—we could beat cancer.
The technical architects behind Cancer Computer, a non-profit organization based in Canada, definitely believe a cure for cancer will be found with computers.
“The mission of Cancer Computer is to help accelerate the cure for cancer,” says Roy Chartier, founder and chief technology officer of the organization. “We make computing resources, made possible through donations and corporate goodwill, available to research projects, such as those served by the Open Science Grid. That’s why we partnered with the OSG.”
Cancer Computer recently partnered with OSG to make available 1,157,122 core hours per year for like-minded research such as the Indiana University Medical School’s SPLinter project and Harvard Medical School’s Structural Biology Grid (SBGrid) Science Portal. SBGrid supports the Deformable Elastic Network and the Wide-Search Molecular Replacement.
“We provide resources directly to researchers, who either need more resources than are available to them departmentally, or need more resources than they otherwise might be able to afford on a commercial cloud platform,” adds Chartier. “In many cases, we will allow researchers to use our platform at no charge.”
When Chartier learned of the OSG, he reached out to see if the two groups could partner. He wanted to partner because he and his colleagues really like the collaborative OSG model. “We had familiarity with some of the toolset, so it was an easy choice. OSG’s mission is to help advance science through collaborative computing. Our mission is to help advance science related to finding a cure for cancer through computing. We’re looking forward to contributing to work on the Structural Biology Grid, and other virtual organizations processing similar work, such as Samy Meroueh’s SPLinter project.”
“OSG is always looking for computing resources,” says Rob Quick, OSG operations officer. “We have a large set of computing resources, but we also have a large number of researchers attempting to use these resources—and we are always looking for academic or non-profit partnerships. Cancer Computer has a large resource pool that we can access.”
Quick says OSG has a number of cancer-related research projects in addition to SBGrid and SPLinter that Cancer Computer could assist.
“We don’t want to mistakenly send them non-cancer-related jobs, so it’s a bit of a technical challenge to filter by domain science,” says Quick. “We had to put some tech in place to make sure we are not sending them jobs they don’t want. A bonus for us is that filtering like this has applications for future discipline-specific resources.”
Cancer Computer doesn’t do the research directly. But as a net provider of computing power to OSG, they can add to OSG’s effectiveness by helping cancer research projects at OSG complete sooner.
Chartier says that the biggest challenge they face isn’t technological. Rather, the challenge is explaining how they believe computers can cure cancer, which is a difficult message to take to non-technical people. A year and a half after founding Cancer Computer, Chartier finds himself continuing to work on the message, so that anyone can understand.
Cancer Computer is just getting started, but OSG is helping them tackle some key challenges. As an all-volunteer organization, the biggest hurdles are time and scaling operational capability.
“We believe that finding the cure for cancer is perhaps the greatest challenge that civilization faces at this time,” says Chartier. “Computers will cure cancer, and the sooner we can apply as many compute resources as we can, the sooner we can advance our understanding of this disease that affects us all, in some way, during our lives. That’s why we’re ‘computing for the cure.’”
– Greg Moore