How You Can Assist In Finding A Cure For Small Pox

Editor's note: These are excerpts from an article which shows you how you can help find a cure for diseases such as small pox. The essence of the idea is that the computer crunching needed to find the cures is horrendous and can take years. If each of us use our excess computing power when our computers are not normally in use we can accelerate the research by years. Two million computers are already participating in this project.

Date: 02/24/2003
Page: C3 Section: Biotechnology
Here's one way to strike a blow against bioterrorism: leave your PC running.
"Texas computer entrepreneur Edward Hubbard says it'll help. So does Graham Richards, chairman of the chemistry department at Oxford University. They're two of the people taking part in a digital assault on smallpox, which could be used by terrorists to kill millions.
What's needed are better drugs to treat diseases that could be unleashed through biological attacks. Finding these drugs will require a lot more than lab rats and test tubes. The scientists also need computing power, quite a few supercomputers' worth, in fact. And that's where you come in.
Here's the plan: Just leave your computer running. But first go over to United Devices, at and download a little piece of software. It's a program that hunts for chemicals that might disrupt the reproductive cycle of the smallpox virus.
Install the software, and leave it running. Whenever you're not doing anything else on the machine - even during the split-second between two keystrokes - the software will run its chemical analysis. All you have to do is log onto the Internet once in a while, so the program can send its results back to headquarters, and download a new batch of data to analyze.
Your desktop computer is now part of a worldwide network called the PatriotGrid, which has already attracted a million members running 2 million PCs. Hubbard, chief executive of United Devices, says the smallpox project would take about 45 years on a scientific computing cluster with a thousand processor chips inside. With PatriotGrid, he expects to get it done in a couple of months."
Editor's note: Shortening any research from 45 years to a couple of months is quite extraordinary.
"At the end of the project, United Devices and Oxford University will have a list of thousands of molecules that bond to the smallpox virus and might help kill it. The data will be handed over to the Department of Defense, which is trying to develop a smallpox cure. Even with the help of the PatriotGrid, a cure for smallpox is years away, but Richards estimates the grid will shorten the process by as much as two years."

The author Hiawatha Bray can be reached at if you want a copy of the whole article.