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YOUR HEALTH: Using the world to find cures

How you can help scientists find new treatments for everything from cancer to COVID

ST. LOUIS — Volunteers from around the globe are coming together to create one of the largest super computers in the world.

One that may hold the answers to Alzheimer's disease, cancer, macular degeneration, the ebola virus, and even COVID-19. 

Citizen scientists, computer geeks, school kids, gamers, and pro athletes are using their personal computers to get to the very root of the problem.

It got its start with Greg Bowman.

He's the man behind one of the largest computer crowdsourcing networks called Folding@Home

He is looking to cure diseases, including his own.

"My interest in proteins really stems from a childhood experience of losing most of my vision to a juvenile form of macular degeneration."

Bowman's eyesight has been fading since second grade. 

Although legally blind, Bowman is studying proteins something so small, that nobody can see them.

"These are the molecular machines that perform most of the active processes associated with life," said Bowman, who is now a Washington University Computational Biophysicist.

Breaking down a single protein can take even the most complex of computers a lifetime. 

So, from his office at Washington University, Bowman is using millions of computers around the world to do the work.

"What we've done is devised ways to break these essentially intractable problems up into completely independent pieces that we can send out to many thousands of people to run in parallel."

"Folding at Home" aims to understand how proteins move or fold into their proper shapes to keep our bodies running. 

Four million people from every country in the world are helping to find the answers.

"It's kind of like a synergy, like each on their own independent, wouldn't be able to achieve what they could achieve when working together towards the same common goal," said Mohammed Syed, a citizen scientist from New Zealand.

Many large corporations are already on board. 

Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco, and Oracle are using their computers to Folding@Home. 

Even pro sports have jumped in to help, including the Spanish professional soccer league. 

With the new surge of participants, Folding@Home now has more raw computing power than the world's largest 500 traditional supercomputers combined.

"The more computers you contribute the better, but anyone can help accelerate the simulations that we're performing," added Bowman.

How does it work?

Folding@Home uses spare home computing power

To participate, you can download the software to your computer and set it to run. 

The program then downloads "work units" and processes them to send the data back. 

You can use your computer as you normally would, but while you work, play, stream or browse, you'll be helping fight disease. 

The more people that get involved, the more processing power there is to simulate the protein folding and the faster results will be achieved. 

Folding@Home has been tested and the servers for it are behind high-security firewalls to keep everything secure.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.