Your smartphones are already helping to cure breast cancer, now even more of you can help

Back in January we introduced you to Folding@Home, a protein folding simulation programme set up by Dr Vijay Pande and his team at Stanford University.

Initially launching in a beta version exclusively on select Xperia devices, Folding@Home set out to crowdsource processing power from people’s smartphones. The aim was to use lots (and we mean LOTS) of smaller processors to help contribute to the enormous computing power needed to simulate the folding and unfolding of proteins that contribute to the creation of many of the world’s most prevalent diseases (like Alzheimer’s and breast cancer) in order to learn more about them.

Since it’s launch less than two months ago the current Folding@Home app, has hit over 150,00 downloads from around the world, with highs of over 50,000 users donating their processing power per day. To put that in to perspective, the 1.5 PetaFlops of processing power created at its peak is already 50% more than the 2007 world record set by the team using PlayStation 3 consoles.


 Today, together with the team in Stanford, we’re making this application available to even more people by releasing a new update to the beta version of the Folding@Home Android application, a beta 2.0 if you like. The latest update will allow anyone, on most devices running Android 4.4 or higher (including Android 5.0; Lollipop), to download the app and start contributing power to the folding process. That means more processors, more proteins and more data for Dr Pande and his team to investigate.

“With the update to support the latest versions of Android and the opportunity for a wider range of smartphones and tablets to get folding, our aim is to really pick up the pace in tackling some of the world’s most challenging, and as yet, incurable diseases facing humanity today. The beauty with Folding@Home is that we’re now able to process, understand and interpret huge amounts of data capitalising on crowdsourced technology” – Jonas Gustavsson, Folding@Home Experience Plannner

 So what have Dr Pande and his team been doing with all of these folded proteins? Well, they’ve been using the data made available to simulate several different configurations of what are known as the ‘kinase’ proteins that are involved in the makeup of breast cancer in order to find out why certain patients respond favourably to certain treatments and others do not.

Dr. Pande hopes that simulating a dozen or so possible configurations of the kinase, and then testing how these fit with a suite of drugs, could help identify better courses of treatment;

“We’re going to learn a lot about the basic biophysics of kinases and their mutations, but we’re hoping we can help doctors use genomic sequencing of tumors to say which drug should be given first, we want to help them pick a better Drug-A”Dr Vijay Pande, Stanford University

Folding@Home ProteinsAccording to Dr. Pande, the kinase takes about 300,000 nanoseconds to fold, and a smartphone can simulate about one nanosecond per day, so if 10,000 phones work eight hours a day, the project could be complete in less than three months!

If you’re yet to start participating in the Folding@Home project, you can download the latest version of the app at The Google Play Store.

In the meantime, we thought we’d take this opportunity to answer a few of the questions we’ve seen crop up across the various channels. Do get in touch with the Folding@Home team at Stanford if you have any more questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does this latest update to Folding@Home bring?

This update to the Folding@Home Beta application brings compatibility and support to many more Android devices running 4.4 or higher (Including Android 5.0; Lollipop) beyond the Xperia range, as well as general performance enhancements and bug fixes.

Can you set up Folding@Home so your contribution time is longer than 6 hours?

Currently the contribution time is limited to 6 hours. The team is looking into greater levels of configuration for upcoming releases. 

My phone is rarely at 100% charge, is there any way you can alter the application so I contribute to the Folding@Home when my phone is at over a certain battery percentage – say 80%?

Unfortunately not – this is done to ensure that users of Folding@Home get fully charged as fast as possible when they charge their phone via the power outlet.

Doesn’t having my phone at 100% battery charge whilst attached to a power source, have a negative impact on smartphone battery’s long-term health?

Modern batteries in smartphones have a built-in circuit that allows the battery to be bypassed completely when fully charged at 100%, such that the device instead runs on external power. It’s this bypass that Folding@Home utilises when the programme is running and it’s why processing only starts when your smartphone battery reaches 100% charge.

Can I contribute to Folding@Home at any time?

The current version of Folding@Home allows you to set any contribution start time. Future versions may allow contribution anytime and for any time period, provided that phone is connected to the charger, but we’re not quite there yet.

Can I use my Stanford ID in the application and contribute to my team’s effort?

Not in the current iteration of Folding@Home, no. Future releases may include this possibility, together with the possibility to consolidating contributions from different devices.

Can I turn notifications off?

The contribution finished notification can be turned off in Settings. The notification shown while the contribution is run cannot be turned off as it is an Android requirement for continuously-running services.

I have unlimited mobile data from my provider, is it possible to run Folding@Home through my 3G or 4G mobile data plan rather than Wi-Fi?

Currently not, but it’s something we’re considering for future updates as the potential for such a constant stream of processing power could be huge.

Where can I find more info on the research?

Please visit Stanford’s web page to learn more about the team, research methodologies and progress made so far:

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