Gamers are somewhat reviled by the media and politicians as being violent psychopaths who use violent first-person shooters and other “murder simulators” to play out acts that may lead to real life consequences. Those extreme graphics causing all the violence, however, may end up saving lives.
A research lab at Wake Forest University is using graphic processing units to simulate the inner workings of human cells according to ScienceBlog. Samuel Cho, biophysicist and computer scientist says that the use of the GPUs is furthering their research by leaps and bounds.
“If it wasn’t for gamers who kept buying these GPUs, the prices wouldn’t have dropped, and we couldn’t have used them for science,” Cho says.
The team uses the GPUs to see how cells live, divide and die. This will help them create targets for tumor-killing drugs.
Cho recently created a simulation that shows the folding of a critical RNA molecule that’s part of the human telomerase enzyme. It gives scientists a better look at how these cells operate, including the revelation of hidden states in the folding and unfolding process.
That big word up there, the telomerase enzyme, it’s only found in cancerous cells. It essentially keeps cancer cells from dying.
“The cell keeps reproducing over and over, and that’s the very definition of cancer,” Cho says. “By knowing how telomerase folds and functions, we provide a new area for researching cancer treatments.”
With their research, they should be able to create a drug that stops the reproduction of this molecule so the cancer cell dies.
Now back to the gaming bit, they are using GPUs to research the bacterial ribosome – a molecular system 200 times larger than the telomerase molecule. They are using the GPUs to simulate the cell’s growth at a much faster rate.
Cho estimates that this research would have taken them over 40 years to complete with traditional cell imaging. With the use of GPUs, it will only take them a few months.
Next time you feel the need to chastise a gamer for their extreme habits or possibly ruining their marriage, just remember that the hardware they keep buying is helping to cure cancer.