Many PS3s Make Light Work for Medical Researchers

The evolution of video gaming took another quantum leap forward this week with the announcement that researchers are now enlisting Sony’s PlayStation 3 (PS3) in the fight against diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and several forms of cancer.

The Tokyo-based Sony said owners of Internet-connected PS3s will now be able to participate in a range of scientific experiments led by Stanford University’s Folding@home program.

The Stanford program is focusing on how two-dimensional protein strands in the human body fold into the three-dimensional molecules, according to Vijay Pande, associate professor of chemistry at Stanford University and lead researcher on the project.

Complex Computing

The folding of protein strands determines their biological functions; incorrect folding can lead to debilitating diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

However, studying the folding process has proved to be a very difficult and complex task for Stanford that requires huge amounts of computing power, according to Pande.

Better Science Through Gaming

Now, PS3 participants will be able to lend their console’s processing power to the effort by simply running some software on their machines when they’re not playing games.

“Millions of users have experienced the power of PS3 entertainment. Now they can utilize that exceptional computing power to help fight diseases,” Masayuki Chatani, CTO of Sony Computer Entertainment, said.

Until now, Stanford researchers relied on an assortment of home computers around the world to help harness more computing power.

The Cell/B.E. processor inside each PS3 is roughly 10 times faster than a standard mainstream chip inside a personal computer, so researchers are able to perform the simulations much faster, speeding up the research process.

More Power

Researchers on the project had been searching for a way to bring the massive processing power of thousands of networked computers before Sony stepped in, Pande told TechNewsWorld.

“With PS3 now part of our network, we will be able to address questions previously considered impossible to tackle computationally, with the goal of finding cures to some of the world’s most life-threatening diseases,” he said.

PS3 users are expected to be able to connect with the project on March 23 by accessing Folding@home through the PS3’s XrossMediaBar, the console’s interactive menu system.

Once the consoles are connected to the project and then idle, Folding@home will grab the devices’ unused processing power. Users will also be able to watch the scientific simulations in real time, according to Sony.

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