Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Wish 26- Use your computer space to help find a cure!

Ever wanted to help find a cure for Parkinson's, Huntingdon's, Alzheimer's diseases or some cancers? Now you can, even while your asleep!

This wish is inspired by a lady called Allison who is a friend of a friend. Alison is in her 50's, very positive and also is living with the terminal condition Multiple System Atrophy (MSA).

Allison's husband Nick found research going on into related conditions. This research isn't centred in a lab being done by scientists in white coats and goggles but rather a computer program that is researching the abnormal way proteins fold in these types of conditions (hence the folding bit). This is where you come in...

More people are needed to run this program, it's really simple providing you have enough computer space (I don't) and you don't need to sit with your computer while it runs. To quote Nick "The Folding@home project is open for anybody to join. The only requirement is that they have a reasonably modern computer that is powerful enough to run the simulations, but most (desktop) computers bought in the last five years or so should be okay. Laptops are not particularly suitable as one of the main ways that manufacturers use to extend battery life is by using lower power central processors and graphics systems. Having said that, higher-end and "desktop replacement" laptops are quite capable of running the folding simulations.".

They have added a fun and competitive element to it with having people work in teams and 'earning' points with a leaders board. You can join as an individual or as part of the team and I would love it if some My 30 Wishes supporters would join team Folding4MSA (team number 2508). Let's have Allison know lots of people are helping find a cure in her honour.

If you have any questions, don't ask me! Semi kidding here but Nick is the person to ask. He can be contacted on Folding4MSA@virginmedia.com and the website is http://folding.stanford.edu/

I will post Nicks explanation below, don't be put off if your not technically minded, I'm told it's very simple;



The Folding@home project is open for anybody to join. The only requirement is that they have a reasonably modern computer that is powerful enough to run the simulations, but most (desktop) computers bought in the last five years or so should be okay. Laptops are not particularly suitable as one of the main ways that manufacturers use to extend battery life is by using lower power central processors and graphics systems. Having said that, higher-end and "desktop replacement" laptops are quite capable of running the folding simulations.

All that is involved is for volunteers (Donors) to go to the website:

http://folding.stanford.edu/

and click on the "Download" button at the top. This will offer to download and install the most suitable "Client" for the machine. Clients are available for Windows, Apple Mac, Linux and now there is one that runs entirely within the Google Chrome browser.

Next, the Donor can choose a username (not required as they can fold under the "Anonymous" username) and/or a team to join. The teams are purely a bit of fun and to add a sense of community and competition to the project.

The Donor can then set the Client to use as much or as little of the computer's power as they wish, from only folding when the computer has been idle for a few minutes right up to using the full power of the machine. If the Client is set to use the full power the user may notice significant slowdown of other programs if they try to run them on the machine at the same time.

Finally the Donor just has to press the "Fold" button to set things off. It is as simple as that!

When installed, the Folding Client program connects to work allocation servers at Stanford University and downloads "Work Units". It then runs the simulation on the Work Units (which may take anything from a couple of hours to a few days depending on the client settings and the power of the computer) and returns the results to the servers at Stanford. The client then automatically downloads another work unit and so on.

Donors are allocated points for each Work Unit completed within the required time and if the Donor is a member of a team these points are also added to the Team's total. To maximise their points score the Donor can register for a "Passkey" which is a unique code for that Donor and this then enables "Quick Return Bonuses". These QRB's are extra points awarded for completing the Work Units faster than expected. The faster the Work Unit is completed the bigger the bonus.

As the simulations are quite compute-intensive the computers running them can get quite warm and use a bit more electricity than they would just using desktop programs, but this is normal. The QRB bonus system encourages Donors to leave their computers switched on and complete the simulations as quickly as possible in order to score the maximum points, hence the "Even while you sleep..." campaign.

Obviously we would love any new Donors to join team 2508, "Folding4MSA" but they are free to join any team they wish or even create their own. The name of the team actually has no bearing on what Work Units are assigned to the Donor's computer although the Donor can specify a preference in the Client program for the type of projects that they would like to work on. This, however, is purely a preference and the servers are free to allocate any suitable Work Units to any machine. Currently there are no Folding@home projects specifically targeted at MSA. Most projects are to do with Parkinson's, Huntingdon's and Alzheimer's diseases, as well as cancer, but the research is still relevant to MSA and there may be MSA-specific projects set up in the future.

Joining team 2508 is a way of the MSA community coming together with a team spirit to do what they can for research and raise awareness of the condition.

As part of my contribution to the MSA community I was intending to build a very powerful computer specifically for running the folding simulations and setting up a team for MSA. I built the computer (which is running very well) but before setting up a new team I decided to see if a team had been set up for MSA already and join that. Searching the Folding@home team list I found just one team for MSA, team 2508 which was then called "TEAM CURE MSA". The team itself was set up in about 2002 by an American scientist, engineer and artist called Ray Strand who was diagnosed with MSA about that time. Unfortunately Ray passed away in 2008 as a result of his MSA, and after that the team seemed to peter out. Through my research I managed to contact Ray's widow, Clare, who is a senior administrator at an American University and asked her if she would be agreeable to me taking over the team. She was delighted with the idea and although it appeared that Ray had taken the team administration login details to his grave, with the Clare's help and that of one of the Folding@home administrators I was able to get administrative control of the team. One of the first things that I did was to change the name of the team to "Folding4MSA" as I felt that it was "trendier" and easier to remember. This was one of the first teams set up in the Folding@home project and there are now over 220,000 teams (most of which are dormant unfortunately), so having team number 2508 carries quite a bit of kudos!

I have not managed to set up a homepage/website for the team at the moment, but that is next on the list of to-do's!




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