Computers and smart devices around the world can now be recruited for childhood cancer research, thanks to a crowdsourcing project launched by IBM.

The Smash Childhood Cancer initiative will make use of IBM’s existing World Community Grid – a technology that harnesses the power of ‘donated’ computers from around the world, the end result of which is the equivalent of a supercomputer.

By utilising this technology, researchers hope to speed up the traditionally slow and expensive drug development process by conducting millions of virtual experiments at once, eventually pinpointing new potential drug candidates for further research.

The World Community Grid has been used in 27 previous research projects, tackling issues ranging from HIV/AIDS to solar energy. Its most notable effort in cancer was a successful effort to discover drug candidates for neuroblastoma in 2014.

In total, over 720,000 individuals and 440 institutions from 80 countries have participated in World Community Grid projects, resulting in over 1 million years of donated computing time.

In this instance, the platform will be used to find drug candidates for neuroblastoma alongside other common childhood cancers including brain tumour, Wilms’ tumour (a type of kidney cancer), germ cell tumours (a type of cancer that affects the central nervous system), hepatoblastoma (a type of liver cancer) , and osteosarcoma (a type of bone cancer).

Volunteers can participate in the scheme by downloading and installing a free app on their computer or Android devices. The app runs in the background, even when the volunteers’ devices are idle, performing virtual experiments on behalf of the research team.