As developers keep coming up with new and astonishing ways to apply cryptocurrency technology to problem-solving, scientists at Stanford University are using the power of computing and the fame of Bitcoin to research cures for cancer and other diseases.
CureCoin, a new project sponsored by Stanford’s Pande Labs that combines coin mining with protein folding for scientific research, launched earlier this month.
Like other digital currencies, CureCoin accrues network security from hashing, with miners earning coins in the process.
Unlike other digital currencies, mining is not the only way to earn coins – you can also set your computer to the task of folding proteins while you do other things, like check Facebook or play Doge games.
The coins are valuable both as 1) a currency, and 2) an exchangeable representation of scientific and medical research. Each coin grows in value as more people contribute and proteins are folded.
BUT WAIT…why does protein folding matter?
Proteins are responsible for nearly every aspect of basic cell life, from maintaining cell shape and internal organization to waste cleanup and receiving signals from outside the cell. They are hugely diverse and have a wide variety of functions, which are determined by the protein’s shape.
Proteins start out as long strings of amino acids, but can’t perform their functions until the strings are folded into that specific 3D shape.
Sometimes, the folding goes awry and the protein is mutated. This is where the trouble starts. Improper protein folding can cause diseases like sickle cell anemia, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. As scientists learn more about how proteins are folded, they come closer to finding cures to the diseases caused by misfolding.
Pande Labs, the same laboratory now sponsoring CureCoin, has been running a mass protein-folding project for this purpose for the last 14 years. Dubbed Folding@home, the project uses resources from the personal computers of thousands of volunteers to research molecular dynamics in the background as people work on other things.
People can also contribute to the project by playing folding games online.
CureCoin expands on the Folding@home project, though the two are not officially affiliated.
After downloading the Folding@home program, users can register with the CureCoin folding pool to start earning coins for the proteins they fold. Folders get 76 percent of the total coins, while miners get 19 percent (the rest goes to developers and donors).
And by the CureCoin team’s measurements, people are folding proteins at an astonishing rate – tripling within first two weeks since the launch from 83 million PPD (a measure of folding speed) on Day Two to over 246 million PPD on Wednesday.
Go team! Cure cancer!