ManeFrame

Research: Gamers join researchers in the fight against cancer

John Wise, Pia Vogel and Corey Clark

SMU researchers (l-r) John Wise, Pia Vogel and Corey Clark are tapping the power of an online gaming community to fight cancer. Photo: Hillsman S. Jackson

The massive computational power of an online gaming community has even more clout than supercomputers in the fight against cancer, according to SMU biochemical researchers and video game developers. The two groups are partnering with the world’s vast network of gamers in hopes of discovering a new cancer-fighting drug.

Biochemistry professors Pia Vogel and John Wise in the Department of Biological Sciences and Corey Clark, deputy director of research at SMU Guildhall, are leading the University’s assault on cancer in partnership with fans of the best-selling video game Minecraft.

With 122 million copies of the game sold worldwide and more than 55 million active players each month as of February 2017, Vogel and Wise expect deep inroads in their quest to narrow the search for chemical compounds that improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs.

“Crowdsourcing as well as computational power may help us narrow down our search and give us better chances at selecting a drug that will be successful,” said Vogel. “And gamers can take pride in knowing they’ve helped find answers to an important medical problem.”

Up to now, Wise and Vogel have tapped the high-performance computing power of SMU’s Maneframe, one of the most powerful academic supercomputers in the nation. With ManeFrame, Wise and Vogel have sorted through millions of compounds that have the potential to work. Now, the biochemists say, it’s time to take that research to the next level — crowdsourced computing.

A network of gamers can crunch massive amounts of data during routine gameplay by pairing two powerful weapons: the best of human intuition combined with the massive computing power of networked gaming machine processors.

Taking their research to the gaming community will more than double the amount of machine processing power attacking their research problem.

“With the distributed computing of the actual game clients, we can theoretically have much more computing power than even the supercomputer here at SMU,” said Clark, who is also an adjunct research associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. In March, SMU Guildhall was named No. 1 among the world’s Top 25 Graduate Schools for Video Game Design by The Princeton Review.

“If we take a small percentage of the computing power from 25,000 gamers playing our mod we can match ManeFrame’s 120 teraflops of processing power,” Clark said. “Integrating with the Minecraft community should allow us to double the computing power of that supercomputer.”

Even more importantly, the gaming community adds another important component — human intuition.

Wise believes there’s a lot of brainpower eager to be tapped in the gaming community. And human brains, when tackling a problem or faced with a challenge, can make creative and intuitive leaps that machines can’t.

“What if we learn things that we never would have learned any other way? And even if it doesn’t work it’s still a good idea and the kids will still get their endorphin kicks playing the game,” Wise said. “It also raises awareness of the research. Gamers will be saying ‘Mom, don’t tell me to go to bed, I’m doing scientific research.’”

The Vogel and Wise research labs are part of the Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery (CD4) in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. The center’s mission is a novel multi-disciplinary focus for scientific research targeting medically important problems in human health. Their research is funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

— Margaret Allen

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog

SMU welcomes its new supercomputer: ManeFrame

ManeFrame with R Gerald Turner, James Quick, Chase Harker, Chase Leinberger and Paul Ludden

At the ManeFrame ceremony were (l. to r.) SMU President R. Gerald Turner; James E. Quick, Dean of Research and Graduate Studies; Chase Harker, finalist in the naming competition; Chase Leinberger, who suggested the winning name; and Paul Ludden, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

SMU unveiled its new supercomputer, the ManeFrame, during ceremonies Wednesday, March 19, and award a Dell laptop computer to the student who named it – sophomore Chase Leinberger.

SMU students, faculty and staff selected the name from entries in a contest sponsored by SMU Provost and Vice President Paul Ludden.

With ManeFrame’s addition to its new data center at the southeastern end of campus, the University now has one of the top academic supercomputers in the nation. ManeFrame – named in honor of SMU’s mustang mascot, Peruna – will be opened to the campus in May, expanding the reach of faculty and student research into subjects ranging from particle physics, to human behavior, to water quality and drug discovery.

High-performance computing makes it possible for researchers to study complex problems involving massive amounts of data using sophisticated software and step-by-step recipes for calculations. At its peak, ManeFrame is expected to be capable of more than 120 trillion mathematical operations a second.

“High-performance computing has become an indispensible tool in the 21st century,” said Jim Quick, associate vice president of research and dean of graduate studies. “The incredible computational power provided by high-performance computing is widely used in science, engineering, business and the arts.  ManeFrame brings this capability to Dallas.”