Video games take role in treating cancer at Wake Forest

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In a research lab at Wake Forest University, the cure for cancer comes down to video games.

Dr. Samuel Cho, an assistant professor of physics and computer science, uses graphics processing units (GPUs) — the same technology that makes video ames look so realistic — to simulate the inner-workings of human cells.

A Bloomberg report states Americans spent more than $760 million on video games in last January alone.  Cho and other researchers credit the video game industry’s success for their ability to make the simulations, which allow them to see exactly how cells live, divide and die.

“If it wasn’t for gamers who kept buying these GPUs, the prices wouldn’t have dropped, and we couldn’t have used them for science,” Cho said.

Cho’s most recent simulation of an RNA molecule — a component of the human telomerase enzyme that’s only found in cancerous cells — gives scientists a new perspective as to how the cells function.  Ultimately, the virtual simulation opens up possibilities for new targets for tumor-killing drugs.

“We don’t use that for rendering images like gamers use it for — we use it for calculating physical interactions in biomolecules,” Cho said.

Cho said it likely would have taken him more than 40 years to program the simulation without GPUs.  Now, it takes a few months.

“We have hijacked this technology to perform simulations very, very quickly on much larger biomolecular systems,” Cho said.

Much of the Cho’s research is presented in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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