Now your phone can help cure cancer

Help save lives while you snooze.
Help save lives while you snooze.
Image: Samsung Austria
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As it turns out, mobile phones probably aren’t giving us cancer. But the computers inside them could help cure it.

Smartphones have incredible processing power. Now your phone can serve as part of a sophisticated research computer–even if all you do with it is play Candy Crush. The Power Sleep app, now available for Android devices on the Google Play Store, lets your phone work for a noble cause while you’re not using it.

Created by Samsung Austria and the University of Vienna, the app also works as an alarm clock. When you set the alarm, it knows that you’re done with the phone for the night, and that’s the signal for the data processing to begin. The app uses your phone to process data from the Similarity Matrix of Proteins (SIMAP), a database that computes similarities between different protein sequences. This research is vital to medical advances in genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and cancer research. Understanding just how proteins are arranged is a first step in designing therapies for cancer, the researchers say, but it requires a ton of processing power. Networks already exist to harness the computing power of PCs around the world, but adding mobile phones to the mix will produce even faster protein analysis.

Don’t worry about getting billed for all the data your phone is parsing: The app only connects your device if it’s plugged in, fully charged, and connected to Wi-Fi. So there’s no reason not to let your phone moonlight as a scientific research tool—as long as you have an Android. With no iOS version of the app, iPhones—around 13% of the world’s smartphones—need not apply.