Vodafone, Amazon team to help your phone cure cancer

Some of the leaders in technology are coming together with an Australian medical research leader to help fight cancer, and you’ll be able to do your part while you sleep.

In fact, the only thing you’ll need to do is load an app, run and configure it, and then go to sleep, letting the app do its thing, and that’s because this little piece of software will rely on the power of distributed computing to function.

Several years ago, the idea of distributed computing popped up when research organisations and universities realised they could tap into the power of computers and video game systems doing nothing all day by sending these devices little bits of a puzzle and have the systems process these for them. In essence, the unused processing cycles from your PlayStation or Windows PC could be tapped and used for something useful, essentially helping an organisation run the numbers and churn out results more efficiently.

The more computers and devices you had doing this, the more the load was spread, and with hundreds of computers working together, organisations technically had access to a distributed-load supercomputer, potentially saving organisations thousands to millions of dollars.

Distributed computing kind of went away for a while, but it’s now back thanks to the supercomputers we keep with us on a day to day basis: our smartphones.


Vodafone, Amazon Web Services, and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have all come together to build an app that will let you take advantage of the unused processing power of your smartphone while you’re sleeping, which will technically be left unused while the device gets its charge from your power source.

Instead of leaving it to do nothing, the “DreamLab” app will grab a piece of a genetic puzzle sent its way from the Garvan Institute, let your phone decode elements, and then send it back to help the organisation work out potential solutions to the equation that is cancer.

The app is for Android only right now, and when downloaded, will ask you what type of cancer you’d like it to work on, allowing you to choose from breast, ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. You can select one of the options, a couple, or all of them, and when you go and eventually get to charging the phone, it will download a piece of genetic code for your phone to work through while it’s sleeping and charging, only working when the power is plugged in so you don’t feel like it’s wasting battery power.

Worth noting is that no medical data specific to an individual is sent to your phone, nor is any patient information, so you’re not being sent secure files that you shouldn’t have, just a portion of a block of genetic code for your phone to solve.

When it has done its job, however, this will get sent up to the cloud, processed and stored by Amazon Web Services for Garvan Institute to grab later on and piece it back together again.

This process done by your phone as you sleep is a big help to the medical organisation, with a thousand phones acting like a super computer together and saving thousands of dollars, as well as completing the process more efficiently.

Or to put it another way, a bunch of phones put together act as a giant spread out genome sequencer.


“Using genome sequencing will profile cancer based on the genomic mutations that are actually occurring,” said Garvan’s Dr. Warren Kaplan.

“Patients in the future will be actually be diagnosed based on a genomic profile or signature we develop. Essentially, this app is designed to try and define a genomic profile or signature.”

From an app point of view, you only need an Android device to make this work, but locally, Vodafone will be offering its customers free unmetered data for this purpose, allowing you to use between 50 and 250MB on 3G/4G or up to 1GB on WiFi for DreamLab.

“As the CEO of Vodafone, I’m proud to see our network used for something good,” said Inaki Berroeta, CEO of Vodafone in Australia.


Mobile owners not on Vodafone can still make use of the app, though the mobile data will just be charged for, so it might be useful to switch this to a WiFi only affair, which you can do easily through the settings.

Also worth noting is that the concept behind DreamLab isn’t totally new, and mobiles have been previously used for distributed computing before, with Samsung’s “PowerSleep” used to send processing power to the University of Vienna, while Berkeley’s “BOINC” could be used for several projects.

That said, it is the first time we’ve seen an Australian medical arm pop up in a distributed computing mobile app, so by grabbing this app, you’d technically be helping Australians like you.

“The Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia is at the forefront of a revolution in cancer research,” said Dr. Samantha Oakes, leader of the Garvan’s breast cancer research unit.

“With the help of game-changing innovations like DreamLab, I am hopeful that we will see cures of certain types of cancer in our lifetime.”


DreamLab is available on the Google Play store now.