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Home > iSGTW 15 October 2008 > iSGTW Feature - Volunteer computing helps track malaria

Feature - Volunteer computing helps track malaria


Thousands of volunteers are contributing to the project from all over the globe. Image courtesy of Nicolas Maire

How do you predict the results of a malaria vaccine? With the grid, and volunteer computing.

A research team at the Swiss Tropical Institute, or STI, in Basel studied the use of computer simulations to predict the epidemiological impact of potential malaria vaccines.  These predictions were obtained with the help of thousands of volunteers who made their computers available to Malariacontol.net, a volunteer computing project based on the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC).

Malaria is one of the world’s leading public health problems, estimated to cause over a million deaths per year. Mathematical modeling of malaria, such as that done on computer, can help public health experts predict the epidemiological impact and cost effectiveness of vaccines and other malaria control interventions.

Because running such simulation models is computationally intensive, it can benefit from volunteer computing, said Nicholas Maire from the research team at STI.

Volunteer computing started as screensaver computing, and most projects still provide the users with a visualization of the ongoing computation.    Image courtesy of Nicolas Maire

Origins

Malariacontrol.net started in 2005 as the first application within the Africa@home   collaboration—a partnership comprised of CERN , the University of Geneva Department of Information, International Conference Volunteers, Informaticiens sans Frontières, and the Swiss Tropical Institute. At present more than 10,000 volunteers are running simulations on their PCs, contributing more than 10,000 years of CPU-time.

Currently there are a number of malaria vaccines in clinical and pre-clinical development, targeting different stages in the life-cycle of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite responsible for the most severe form of the disease. The published predictions raise several issues for vaccine clinical development: the suitability of each vaccine type under different conditions, the minimal duration of protection required for a  given vaccine to have a worthwhile impact, and the need for clinical development plans to assess transmission to the mosquito vector.

The team’s work was published in PLOS One, where results of their simulations can be found.

—Nicolas Maire and Melissa Penny, Swiss Tropical Institute

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