April 15, 2007 (Vol. 27, No. 8)

Sony Computer Entertainment System Used to Advance Medical Research

Officials at Sony Computer Entertainment (www.sony.com) say that PlayStation®3 (PS3™) will have the capability to connect to Stanford University’s Folding@home program, a distributed computing project aimed at understanding protein folding, misfolding, and related diseases.

Folding@home is leveraging PS3’s Cell Broadband Engine™ (Cell/B.E.)—and what will be an even more powerful distributed supercomputing network of PS3 systems—to help study the causes of diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis, and many cancers, notes Masayuki Chatani, corporate executive and CTO, Sony Computer Entertainment.

Because the process of folding proteins is so complex, computers are used to perform simulations to study the process. Folding@home enables this task to be shared among thousands of computers connected via the network, utilizing distributed computing technology. Once the data are processed, the information is sent back via the Internet to the central computer.

Accelerating the Research Process

The Cell/B.E. processor inside each PS3 is roughly 10 times faster than a standard mainstream chip inside a personal computer. This enables researchers to tabulate the simulations much faster, speeding up the research process, according to Sony.

“To study protein folding, researchers need more than just one super computer, the massive processing power of thousands of networked computers. Previously, PCs have been the only option for scientists studying this, but now, they have a new, more powerful tool,” says Chatani.

“We’re thrilled to have Sony Computer Entertainment be part of the Folding@home project,” says Vijay Pande, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry at Stanford University and Folding@home project lead.

“With PS3 now part of our network, we will be able to address questions previously considered impossible to tackle computationally, with the goal of finding cures to some of the world’s most life-threatening diseases.”

With the latest system software update expected to become available soon, the Folding@home icon will be added to the Network menu of the XMB™ (XrossMediaBar). PS3 users can join the program by simply clicking on the Folding@home icon or can optionally set the application to run automatically whenever the PS3 is idle.

Starting with Folding@home, Chatani points out that Sony Computer Entertainment will continue to support distributed computing projects in a wide variety of academic fields, such as medical and social sciences and environmental studies through the use of PS3.

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