Fighting Cancer With Your Smartphone

Casey Gibson
The Startup
Published in
4 min readJan 1, 2020


Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

Smartphones are frequently used throughout our day, however they’re rarely used to their full potential. My smartphone when I’m not using it, is using only 10% of it’s CPU. As I’m writing this article, my laptop is using only 5% of its CPU.

What if we could use our idle smartphones and computers for ‘good’? It turns out that you can.

How can your smartphone help science?

The great thing about smartphones is that they’re cheap to run and there are millions of them. The problem is that smartphones sit idle for a large part of the day, which means there is millions in lost CPU potential. In fact, there are over 3 billion smartphones in the world.


In 2015 Vodafone created an app called DreamLab. DreamLab is available on Android and iOS and runs in the background while you’re charging your phone. DreamLab has partnered with “The Garvan Institute”, “Imperial College London” and “AIRC” to support the projects “Demystify”, “Drugs Phase 3”, “Drugs Phase 4” and “3D Genome”.

What I like about DreamLab is that you can chose which project you want to support, or rotate them which is my preferred method. After supporting a project for a month, I’ll move to the next one.

In just eight months, DreamLab users have delivered the same results that a desktop computer running 24 hours a day would take 50 years to do.

Boinc (Android Only)

BOINC for Android is much like DreamLab however it’s supported by 9 other projects such as Rosetta@home, Asteroids@home, SETI@home and Yoyo@home.

BOINC doesn’t seem to be as optimised as DreamLab and the projects seem to be more mathematical based rather than medical, so it’s really up to your own preferences as to what project you decide to chose. Once again, you can always do what I do and rotate between projects.

Also keep in mind that if you aren’t using Android, then your only real option is DreamLab.

How can your idle computer help?

In 2018, nearly 50% of households had access to a computer. While there may not be as many computers as smartphones and since computers don’t typically run 24/7 like smartphones, a computers hardware is a lot more powerful.

BOINC (for PCs)

The PC version of BOINC seems to be a lot more useful than the Android version as there are a lot more projects available (edit: it now includes doing research for COVID-19: This is mostly because the projects require more advanced CPUs, or, require GPUs.

Initially it will do a benchmark test to decide what calculations it can give you that your CPU will be able to manage. Once it’s done benchmarking, and if you’re using a laptop it’s plugged in and charging, it will then start working on the project you selected.

You can decide how and when it runs in the preferences. You can set how much CPU it will consume, or if you start typing or move the mouse, it can pause and wait until you are no longer using your computer.

While there are other alternatives out there that support different projects, such as Prime95, DreamLab and BOINC are the ones that prefer.

DreamLab and BIOINC are the easiest to use, support multiple devices, and are the most helpful to the science community overall. I also love that I have the ability to chose the project I want to support instead of being locked into one project.

Now, we are ready to take the leap into the next phases where we will research effective drug or food combinations in the treatment of cancer. This is a much more complex process and requires even more computing power to crunch tens of millions of calculations. That is why we need smartphone owners to help our research by downloading and using the app each night while they sleep. — Dr Kirill Veselkov, assistant professor in computational medicine at Imperial College



Casey Gibson
The Startup

I’m a full stack developer in HTML/CSS, JavaScript, PHP, Java, NoSQL, SQL with extensive knowledge in MongoDB, NodeJS, AWS Lambda and DynamoDB.