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UHN's Krembil Research Institute has assumed managing control of the World Community Grid (WCG), a powerful computing platform that enables the public to support large-scale science.
Built by IBM in 2004, WCG allows volunteers to offer their personal computing power for computationally intensive research, benefiting humanity.
Over the years, the platform has allowed the public to participate in many health-related projects, including cancer and HIV/AIDS research and recently, the development of the SARS-CoV-2 treatments.
Volunteers receive computer-simulated experiments on their workstations (computers or Android devices) through the BOINC app when they sign up to participate. This app downloads scientific computing jobs and runs them in the background; the user can choose what projects to run and when, or how much computing resources they wish to dedicate to these projects.
If they are away from their computer (and it's left on), WCG continues processing complex scientific calculations.
Scientists often work with large data sets and complex algorithms, which require significant computing power. Computing may be done by either a central processing unit (CPU) or a graphic processing unit (GPU). Calculations may be run in parallel across thousands of CPUs and GPUs, basically creating a distributed supercomputer, enabling effective processing of such large data sets.
As an example, Scripps Institute was able to leverage the volunteer's GPU processing power to identify potential drugs to treat COVID-19. In the one-time stress test showcasing the power of distributed computing, a year's worth of calculations were completed in about 10 days.
Krembil Principal Investigator, Dr. Igor Jurisica, and his team, will oversee the transfer from IBM, and will continue running this powerful platform, expanding into new areas of health research.
Harness and expand what citizen-driven science can achieve
"WCG can be viewed as community science, supporting open-source and open-data research, where the volunteers strongly associate with the cause and are willing to contribute their time and resources for innovation and discovery," says Dr. Jurisica.
To date, several completed healthcare-related projects have been focused on cancer, However, WCG is a globally recognized platform allowing for future international collaborations in arthritis, vision, and brain research.
Each of Krembil's research pillars require a considerable computational commitment, from identifying novel prognostic or predictive biomarkers to therapeutic targets. One of WCG's programs – Mapping Cancer Markers – identified and validated a diagnostic group of biomarkers for lung cancer, after processing over 9.8 trillion possible biomarkers. Using the various data points identified from the tissue samples and the processing power of WCG, these six markers are now being validated clinically.
In future projects, volunteers may be able to participate in identifying potential disease-modifying drugs for Parkinson's disease or biomarkers for rheumatoid arthritis and several vision-related diseases.
WCG will support many new efforts in computational biology and neuroscience and facilitate ongoing collaborative research interactions while harnessing the power of this unique, highly parallel supercomputer.
"Bringing WCG to Krembil means we can expand into new areas of research, focus on youth outreach and increase visibility of the Institute," Dr. Jurisica says. "We will harness and expand what citizen-driven science can achieve.
"With support from our funding partners and volunteers around the world, people will be able to participate in Krembil-led research, in collaboration with Canada's New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization, Compute Ontario, and Sharcnet, bringing the community together to raise awareness for the various diseases that we study."
Read more about Krembil's World Community Grid project