The Vodafone Foundation and scientists at Imperial College London are asking smartphone users across the UK to come together to support a project to speed up research into effective treatments for the Covid-19 coronavirus.
The Corona-AI project will be delivered through DreamLab, an app developed by the Vodafone Foundation and launched in 2017 to facilitate cancer research. DreamLab uses the collective computing power of smartphones to analyse complex data while their owners sleep, helping scientists identify existing drugs and food-based molecules that may benefit patients.
Collective processing power creates a virtual supercomputer which is said to be capable of processing millions of calculations. Scientists from Imperial College London believe if 100,000 DreamLab users power the app for six hours every night for three months, they could complete vital research that would take Imperial’s own supercomputers a year to process.
The Corona-AI project uses artificial intelligence to trawl through data and identify existing drugs and food molecules that could benefit those with the infectious disease. The more people who plug in, the quicker possible treatments will be found. No personal data from the user’s device would be affected or used in any way.
The project is split into two phases. Phase one will identify existing drugs and food-based molecules with antiviral properties that may benefit those with Covid-19. Phase two will optimise combinations of these drugs and food molecules to provide potential drug treatments and nutritional advice for those with Covid-19.
Once the research is complete, it will be made available to the medical profession to facilitate clinical trials. In addition, any food-related findings will be translated into dietary advice that can be implemented by the medical community for patients recovering from coronavirus.
Helen Lamprell, Vodafone UK
“We urgently need new treatments to tackle Covid-19,” said Kirill Veselkov, a lecturer for the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, who is leading the research. “There are existing drugs out there that might work to treat it, and the great thing about repurposing existing drugs is that we already know they are safe and therefore could get them to patients quickly.
“However, we have to do difficult and complicated analyses using artificial intelligence, and all of this takes a huge amount of computing power. DreamLab creates a supercomputer that enables us to do this important work in a relatively short timeframe,” he added.
Helen Lamprell, trustee and board member of the Vodafone UK Foundation and general counsel and external affairs director at Vodafone UK, said: “We’re working hard to keep the UK connected during this challenging time. We ask everyone to come together and harness the collective power of their smartphones by connecting to DreamLab. If everyone in the UK connects, we have the potential to really make a difference in the fight against Covid-19.”
To get involved, smartphone users simply need to download the DreamLab app and activate it every night while they sleep and charge their phones. The app can be downloaded from the App Store for iOS or Play Store for Android. Vodafone customers can activate DreamLab for free, while those on other networks will be asked how much data they would like to donate to power the app, or they can connect via Wi-Fi.