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Stanford Helps Fight Alzheimer's with PS3

Sara Goo

Scientists at Stanford University are hoping that video game fans will soon donate their PlayStation 3s to the good cause of finding a cure for diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

With the next software update for the game console, PS3 owners will be given an option to click an icon for Stanford's "Folding@home" project and download software that the university has designed to help outsource the computing power of the game consoles (which are essentially computers) needed for some of its research.

Screenshot from Stanford's Folding@home program. (Courtesy Sony Computer Entertainment America)

The software will run "protein folding" simulations, which help researchers understand why proteins sometimes fold incorrectly and mutate into diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Each participating PS3 will periodically download and analyze a chunk of the school's research, and then upload the results. The software, which is due at the end of the month, will run when the PS3 system is not playing games or performing other multimedia tasks.

"Neworked computing" is a way to spread large computing tasks across a network of computers -- or, in this case, game consoles. One of the most popular instances of this sort of computing has been the "SETI@Home" program, available as a free computer download, designed to analyze radio transmissions for signs of extraterrestrial broadcasts.

The Stanford software has already been available on personal computers, though Vijay Pande, a physical and biophysical chemistry professor at the university, said that the cutting-edge PlayStation 3's horsepower will give a 20-fold boost or more to some of its projects. If enough PlayStation 3 owners participate in the program, he said, studies that once took two years to conduct could now be done in just a month.

"What used to be impossible is now in reach," he said.
Sony says that about a million PlayStation 3s have sold in North America to date, and that about half of those consoles are connected to the Web. The PS3 maker doesn't know how many gamers will download the software, but Dr. Richard Marks, a senior researcher at the company, said he hopes that PS3 owners will see the software as a "call to action." Marks that the idea to offer the "Folding@home" software to PS3 owners came from engineers within the company's Research and Development team.

PlayStation 3 owners who download the program will be able to watch a visual representation of the research work that is being done on their game console and view a map of the Earth in which all of the consoles particpating in the "Folding@home" project are represented as bright dots. Pande also thinks that the project might have a side benefit in nudging some members of a younger generation to consider science as a possible career possibility.
"We hope that it will help excite kids about science in a way you don't get from a text book," he said. "Especially if you have a nice big TV."

By Mike Musgrove  |  March 15, 2007; 5:37 PM ET  | Category:  Mike Musgrove
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Great Article! It's nice to see something positive for a change. This is a great way for PS3 owners to easily contribute to a great cause.

Posted by: jacksons9 | March 15, 2007 6:23 PM

and maybe they can network compute up some better games for the PS 3 while they're at it.

Posted by: Miya-matzeltoff | March 15, 2007 6:29 PM

I don't own a PS3 is there anyway they can use a laptop to help?

Posted by: Brian | March 15, 2007 6:53 PM

For your PC/laptop use URL:

To download the client and help beat Alzheimers!

Posted by: Tom | March 15, 2007 7:06 PM

To Brian and Others: Yes you can use your laptop. Laptops are very efficient contributors. The Stanford download site is here:

Please join The Longevity Meme Folding@Home team, brief description and setup info here:

Posted by: Mike | March 15, 2007 7:11 PM

i realy cant understand how a ps3 could cure such ilness

Posted by: angelº | March 15, 2007 9:03 PM

Great idea, but what are the chances of someone hacking the system and manipulating the data?

Posted by: Atomic G | March 15, 2007 9:30 PM

Stanford is not the only one running a folding project- the U of Washington has the rosetta@home project which utilizes the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Networked Computing (BOINC). These projects have two different aims, however. Dr. Vijay and F@H are looking at how the proteins fold and why they mis-fold, whereas rosetta@home is looking at the final state of a broad range of proteins folded as an extension of the human genome project.

As to hacking a system and manipuating data, as the data is not done over just once by one computer, the chances of this happening are slim. Add in a few checksums to be sure that the data wasn't manipulated maliciously, it gets better. tbh I don't know all the measures they use, but I do know that there is a portion of F@H that is absolutely closed source for just that reason.

Posted by: Morgan | March 16, 2007 3:32 AM

All I know is I tried this on windows Xp pro with a pentium Dual core @ 3ghz with 2GB of ram and it slowed my pc down allot even with the program off. but the second I uninstalled it everything went back to normal. Now I'm not saying this will happen to you but FYI I like to run only what I need on my pc. Anything extra I turn off or remove. I only installed this program because it sounded like a cool thing to do in order to help mankind, However if its going to work like this then mankind will have to wait. Hope it works out better for you PS3 users.

Posted by: Just the facts | March 16, 2007 9:15 AM

In response to "Just the Facts" statement: Occasionally something goes amiss with computers and/or software, or for that matter anything else in life. When this happens, most of us do not dismiss either the computer or the software, or whatever in life causes the anomaly. I have run the Stanford Folding program on a variety of computers, desktops & laptops with AMD, Intel, and IBM processors and with differing OS'es from Win98, OSX, to WinXP with no appreciable difficulty, and certainly no interference with existing programs on the computers. The Folding client is purposely designed to be unobtrusive and it defaults to lowest priority, i.e. it yields to the users other program priorities. I personally know several people with minimal computer expertise who enjoy contributing to the Stanford research with Folding@home. Currently there are over 200,000 computers contributing to F@H. Many of these contributors post their experiences on various forums. It is very rare that anyone complains of interference with his/her normal computer utility.

Posted by: Mike | March 16, 2007 9:51 AM

it sounds like a distribution system. I am afraid about back door or other viruses when it exchange information.

Posted by: Geryon | March 16, 2007 10:35 AM

Mike I agree. Sometimes things just don't work out due to an individual's software configurations, hardware configuration, when a Bug farts or whatever.
Being that I have not tried it in another PC yet I won't dismiss the program as having bad coding and never did. To clarify; It was just in this particular case it did not work out.
At first it seemed okay but after running for a few hours it made a snappy system act almost as if it was running in real mode. Even a reboot did not fix the problem.

That being said, I'm far from a computer novice, so far that even saying that is an understatement. In any case I just thought it would be relevant to discuss my experience with others should someone else encounter the same problem after installing it.

But hey.. it was not a total loss.. At least I got the chance to help mankind for a few hours.

Again I wish all the PS3 users the best of luck with it and hope to see the same thing on the Xbox. More cell processing is the way to go if we want quick answers to some of the world's biggest questions

Posted by: Just the Facts | March 16, 2007 1:45 PM

Response to Geryon's concern: Stanford F@H servers do send and receive Work Units to and from the contributing computer. This send/receive process does not occur continuously, it usually occurs for a relatively short period of time (minutes, or sometimes less, for a broadband connection) at the beginning or completion of a work unit. Processing a specific work unit could take ~a day, (maybe less) to several days depending on the complexity of the work unit and the speed of the computer. This process of sending and receiving work units is normally automated, i.e., no user interaction is required. But if desired, the contributor has the option of complete control as to when these transfers take place. The process is safe. As mentioned in the previous post, many of the 200,000 or so contributors post their experiences. I have never heard of anyone getting a virus or malware as a result of contributing to the Stanford research program

Posted by: Mike | March 16, 2007 4:11 PM

I find it awsome.. whoever thought up, and made it possible for ps3(&pc) users to do this, Bravo! I have a ps3 and am "all-for" donating computing power for a good cause. Allowing the "Average-Joes" to collectively contribute their idle pc time and making it so simple is brilliant! @home!

Posted by: Anon1 | March 17, 2007 7:09 AM

Well said, Anon1.

This is such a wonderful opportunity for anyone with a computer and an Internet connection to contribute to scientific progress. So onward, to make a better world!

Posted by: Mike | March 17, 2007 8:00 PM

Great, just what i want. my PS3 working as hard is it possibly can...all the time. That isn't gunna cause it to overheat and burn out in no time....

Posted by: Wonderful!!! NOT | March 18, 2007 2:01 PM

To: Wonderful!...: If one tries, one can find reasons for not doing almost anything. Thankfully, some people manage to get quite a bit accomplished without great agonizing. Of course Folding@home works computers (the CPUs or GPUs) very hard. This is what they are designed to do. But if one sees need to, in the regular computer F@H client software there is provision to reduce CPU utilization from 100% to a lower percentage. I have never found this feature necessary. Computer systems, that are designed well, will run for years at full-bore. Do not be afraid, give it a chance :)

Posted by: Mike | March 18, 2007 3:54 PM

To Mike: you mean it just transfers message between contributing computers and Stanford. No interaction between two contributing computers? OK, I think Stanford's security system is good enough to prevent viruses, but when it become famous, I am afraid some hackers will notice it.

Posted by: Geryon | March 18, 2007 3:59 PM

to Wonderful!!! NOT: I agree with Mike. I always keep my computer working over 3-6 days and nights. In my opinion, machines are bought to work. In fact, the more it works, the better it works, espesially at wet weather, like my home now...

Posted by: Geryon | March 18, 2007 4:10 PM

You are correct, Geryon. The data transfer occurs only between Stanford's servers and the contributor's computer(s). There is no need for interaction between contributing computers, and the Stanford F@H software makes no provision for such.

"but when it become famous"

Yes well, this dialogue is part of our contribution to help make it famous, the sooner the better!

Maybe then some 'brave' contibutors will step up and help defend against the would-be hackers.

Posted by: Mike | March 18, 2007 4:56 PM

Hi Mike, do you come from Stanford? haha

Posted by: Geryon | March 19, 2007 1:04 AM

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