EU Grid Computing Effort Takes on Malaria

European nuclear agency CERN plans to coordinate a grid of volunteers to run epidemiological simulations of the impact of new malaria treatments.

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Malaria is the worlds most common parasitic infection, affecting more than 500 million people annually and killing more than 1 million. Those most likely to die as a result of malaria are African children; the disease kills one African child every 30 seconds.

In order to help combat malaria, CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) has launched a grid computing effort.

The organization is recruiting volunteers with computers to run a computer-intensive simulation program called, developed by researchers at the STI (Swiss Tropical Institute).

The effort is part of a project called Africa@home.

The program is being used to simulate how malaria spreads through Africa. Running the simulations on thousands of volunteer computers will enable researchers to better understand, and ultimately shape, the impact of introducing new treatments. The results are regularly returned to a server at the University of Geneva so that researchers can evaluate them.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about how grid computing is being used to fight avian influenza.

Before launching publicly, the grid ran for a test phase of a few months with 500 volunteers. In that time, the grid was able to run simulations equivalent to 150 years of processing time on a single computer.

"Volunteer computing really opens up new horizons for us scientifically," said Professor Tom Smith of the Swiss Tropical Institute. "We have already done more epidemiological modeling in a few months than we could have achieved on our own computer cluster in a few years."

/zimages/6/28571.gifThe World Community Grid, founded by IBM, is working to fight HIV. Read more here.

Researchers from the University of Bamako in Mali and the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie in Bamako and in Yaoundé, Cameroon, were able to join the project team based at CERN to develop the software for the Africa@home project.

It was funded by the Geneva International Academic Network, which has committed another grant to adapt other applications of significance to Africa to run on volunteer computers.

"Putting African institutions at the heart of a worldwide scientific network will be a very concrete step towards bridging the digital divide," said H.E. Mr. Adama Samassékou, president of ICVolunteers and previously Malian Minister of Education.

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