​Vodafone Foundation's DreamLab app to aid cancer research

Vodafone Foundation and The Garvan Institute of Medical Research have launched the DreamLab app to assist cancer researchers process medical data.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Vodafone Foundation and The Garvan Institute of Medical Research have launched, as part of a three-year partnership, the DreamLab smartphone app in an aim to help fast track cancer research.

Designed by B2Cloud, DreamLab -- initially available for download on Android with plans already underway for launch on iOS -- has been built to transform any smartphone into a supercomputer, Vodafone has claimed.

When a smartphone is plugged in and is fully charged, the DreamLab app automatically downloads a small part of the genetic sequencing profiles that the Garvan Institute stores on Amazon Web Services' locally hosted cloud. The information is then processed, and the results are sent back to Garvan researchers, which they can use as part of their research.

Within the free app, users are able to choose which cancer research they wish to support -- breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic -- before selecting how much mobile data they want to use per month, starting at 50 megabytes. Vodafone has committed to waiving fees for the data on behalf of its five million prepaid and postpaid customers.

The launch of the app comes after two years in the making, which also included the trial of a desktop version.

Vodafone Australia CEO Inaki Berroeta told ZDNet the company is always looking at new ways of how it can best use its existing network.

"When we heard about the challenges that the Garvan Institute were having when it came to buying computing power to do all this data-intensive research, that's when we thought about what if we connected millions of smartphones that are idle at night, and we create this supercomputer.

"We could have [used computers] but given the millions of smartphones that are connected to our network, there is much more computing power than any computer. Also, you can see nowadays a smartphone has a computing power that is almost equivalent to a PC."

Andrew Giles, CEO of The Garvan Institute of Medical Research, explained that the initial goal will be to see 100,000 smartphone users power up the DreamLab app, which is expected to help crunch data 3,000 times faster than the current rate, and help address the institute's largest challenge.

"Crunching numbers is our biggest challenge at the moment -- so this will speed up unbelievably. The more we get, the quicker we'll go because there is so much data. The full human genome is an amazing file by itself, but at the moment we focus on things we know ... but there are other genes we're not allocating time to yet, but this means people can do that while it's sleeping," he said.

DreamLab app will turn any smartphone into a supercomputer.
(Image: Supplied)

According to John Mattick, executive director of The Garvan Institute of Medical Research, the institute is currently generating between one to two petabytes of data per year.

"[This is] just coming from the machines before we get to analysis. The data on individual genos has to be matched by data from their medical data in order to make sense of their genetic sequencing," he said.

"The future of medical research, the future of healthcare is going to be about the use of data, and initially we have to understand this data and the differences in the genetic profile ... and we need enormous processing power."

Giles added that the institute expects to make additional savings, given that this program will mean it won't need to purchase a supercomputer.

"It's more about what we won't have to spend. We've been doing some forward planning [based on] our budget; our IT bills are huge, our storage bills are huge, so if this really gets off it could be tens of thousands [of dollars], or hundreds of thousands if things go really well. We're owned by the University of New South Wales, so obviously we're part of that but it's still expensive," he said.

In addition, Vodafone announced that it will commit AU$400,000 over three years to The Garvan Institute of Medical Research to further help with cancer research.

During its half-year results for 2015, Vodafone continued to record a net loss of AU$183.6 million, up 13.3 percent from the AU$158.6 million loss in the same period last year.

Vodafone Australia's James Marsh at the time attributed the company's loss to acquisition costs, the offer of cheaper international calling and data options for customers, a higher debt due to a number of its liabilities being held in unhedged US dollars, and increased competition.

"We have seen a step up in competition across both the mobile network operators and the MVNOs, particularly in prepaid," he said.

"Our seasonal decline, though, has been at its lowest levels for many years, and we're in a good position for growth in H2.

"We see that [customer base] growing going forward."

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