The Vodafone Foundation and researchers at Imperial College London introduced an app designed to use slumbering smartphones in the fight against cancer.

Named DreamLab, the app aims to harness the collective processing power of a network of smartphones to analyse small chunks of broader datasets to identify connections which could ultimately deliver more effective combinations of existing cancer-treating drugs.

This analysis will be conducted overnight, when smartphones are typically not being used and so more processing power is available. In a statement, Vodafone explained the cloud-based processing approach could drastically reduce the time taken to analyse the vast amount of data available.

Data analysis is handled by an algorithm developed by the college’s Department of Surgery and Cancer. Vodafone noted while cancer treatments are traditionally decided based on patients’ specific form of the diseases, “this research aims to use genetic profiles to find the best cancer treatment for individuals.”

Months versus years
The operator stated a network of 100,000 smartphones running for six hours a night could analyse the “vast amount of data that exists” in three months compared with the 300 years it would take a desktop PC equipped with an eight-core processor running 24 hours a day.

Dr Kirill Veselkov of the Surgery and Cancer department said today only a fraction of the “huge volumes of health data” generated globally is being put to use: “By harnessing the processing power of thousands of smartphones, we can tap into this invaluable resource and look for clues in the datasets.”

Ultimately, the approach “could help us to make better use of existing drugs and find more effective combinations” tailored to patients, he added.

DreamLab is free to download and use for Vodafone customers. Users on other networks can also participate, choosing how much of their data allowance they wish to donate towards the app or connecting via Wi-Fi.

Vodafone Foundation supports projects focused on delivering public benefit through the use of mobile technology.