Chancellor boasts of P2P support as IT cancer project struggles to survive

Chancellor Gordon Brown yesterday opened the National e-Science Centre, a £3.5m centre for distributed computing in Edinburgh,...

Chancellor Gordon Brown yesterday opened the National e-Science Centre, a £3.5m centre for distributed computing in Edinburgh, with the claim that the government was "committed to maintaining Britain's leading role in this important area of scientific research".

As he was speaking one of the world's most successful distributed computing projects - researching cancer cures - was facing a funding crisis.

For the past year the National Foundation for Cancer Research at Oxford University has been running the Think project, which draws on the combined computational power of 1.5 million Internet-connected PCs to search for a cure for cancer risks.

But as the first stage of the project reaches fruition, has learnt that there is no funding yet agreed for the second stage of the research.

Microsoft and Intel backed the project for its first year but neither would be drawn about future support. A spokesman for Intel said: "The cancer research project has met its objectives." He added that the company would continue to assess the opportunities but no decision has yet been made on further funding.

Professor Graham Richards, chairman of the department of Chemistry at Oxford University, said the project costs were around £200,000 a month. This paid for the hosting and technical services of peer-to-peer specialist United Devices.

Richards said some 3,000 new users were joining the project every day to join the 1.5 million PC users, who have downloaded a special screen saver from United Devices that activates when the PC is idle.

The screen saver contains a peer-to-peer program for analysing 12 proteins that Richard's team has identified as significant in cancer research.

"We have used over 100,000 years of CPU time," he said. "[The technology] is more powerful than the world's most powerful supercomputer."

This vast CPU resource is used to analyse the 12 proteins against 3.5 billion possible compounds.

In the second stage of the project the compounds, which produced positive results, or hits, would be separated for more detailed computational analysis.

Unless Richards finds sponsorship, he will have to run the second stage of the project on the 56 PCs he has at his disposal at Oxford - a far cry from the 1.5 million used in the first phase.

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