Could we be cancer free within 10 years? Well! “Microsoft” is aiming to ‘solve’ the disease using computer science

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  • A research lab is looking into ways to make cells into living computers
  • These cells will then be programmed to treat diseases like cancer
  • Have already developed software that mimics healthy behavior of a cell
  • Next step is working out a code so this can be compared to a diseased cell

Well The company is best known for its computers and phones.

But Microsoft is now setting its sights on one of the most important questions in science – how to cure cancer.

One of its research labs aims to tackle the disease as if it were a bug in a computer system, with the hopes of being able to make cells into living computers that can ‘reprogramme’ cancer cells within the decade.

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Microsoft is now setting its sights on one of the most important questions in science – how to cure cancer. The company aims to use a computer code to treat the disease like a computer virus, ‘reprogramme’ diseased cells. A SEM image of cancer cells is shown

‘The field of biology and the field of computation might seem like chalk and cheese,’ Chris Bishop, head of Microsoft Research’s lab, told Fast Company.




‘But the complex processes that happen in cells have some similarity to those that happen in a standard desktop computer.’

At the Microsoft Research lab, based in the university city of Cambridge, 150 scientists and software developers are working on a wide variety of projects as part of a ‘biological computation’ unit.

The lab includes some of the world’s best biologists, programmers and engineers who are tackling cancer as if it were a virus in a computer system.

The company says its eventual goal is to make cells into living computers.

“MAKING CELLS INTO LIVING COMPUTERS”

At the Microsoft Research lab, based in the UK university city of Cambridge, 150 scientists and software developers are working on a wide variety of projects as part of a ‘biological computation’ unit.

The company says its eventual goal is to make cells into living computers.

The idea is these cells could be programmed, and reprogrammed, to treat diseases like cancer.

‘I think it will be technically possible in five to 10 years time to put in a smart molecular system that can detect disease,’ Andrew Philips, head of the group, said.

Also Read: Mumbai University students still await re-evaluated answer papers who had applied

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The company says its eventual goal is to make cells into living computers. The idea is these cells could be programmed, and reprogrammed, to treat diseases like cancer. Illustration pictured.

The idea is these cells could be programmed, and reprogrammed, to treat diseases like cancer.

Some might say this is a dramatic change in direction for the company, but Mr Bishop does not agree.

‘I think it’s a very natural thing for Microsoft to be looking at because we have tremendous expertise in computer science and what is going on in cancer is a computational problem,’  he said.

Microsoft’s overarching philosophy toward solving cancer focuses on two basic approaches, said Jeannette Wing, Microsoft’s corporate vice president in charge of the company’s research labs.

One approach is rooted in the idea that cancer and other biological processes are information processing systems – like the research the Cambridge lab is looking into.

Another is based on the idea that researchers can apply techniques such as machine learning to the plethora of biological data that has suddenly become available.

‘The collaboration between biologists and computer scientists is actually key to making this work,’ Wing said.

In the shorter term, the Cambridge team’s computer models are assisting pharmaceutical companies in developing medicines.

“HOW WILL IT BE DONE?”

“The Microsoft programming group has already developed a software that mimics the healthy behavior of a cell.” 

The next step is working out a code so the cells can be compared to that of a diseased cell, to work out where the problem occurred and how it can be fixed.

Dr Jasmin Fisher, senior researcher and an associate professor at Cambridge University, told The Telegraph: ‘If we are able to control and regulate cancer then it becomes like any chronic disease and then the problem is solved.’

‘I think for some of the cancers five years, but definitely within a decade. Then we will probably have a century free of cancer.’ 

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At the Microsoft Research lab, based in Cambridge, 150 scientists and software developers are working on a wide variety of projects as part of a ‘biological computation’ unit (stock image)

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The field of computational biology took off in 2012 when researchers at Stanford University developed the first complete computer model of an organism. The ‘complete’ model of the ‘Mycoplasma genitalium’ bacteria behaved exactly like the real thing (SEM image pictured)

‘It’s long term, but… I think it will be technically possible in five to 10 years time to put in a smart molecular system that can detect disease,’ Andrew Philips, head of the group, said.

The field of computational biology took off in 2012 when researchers at Stanford University developed the first complete computer model of an organism.

The ‘complete’ model of the ‘Mycoplasma genitalium’ bacteria behaved exactly like the real thing – based on data from 900 scientific papers.

Every chemical change inside the bacteria is simulated at the molecular level.

Being able to ‘simulate’ life allows researchers to perform far more complex experiments than were previously possible.

Microsoft’s senior researcher Dr Jasmin Fisher describes this process as ‘connecting the puzzle pieces.’

The Microsoft programming group has already developed software that mimics the healthy behavior of a cell.

The next step is working out a code so the cells can be compared to that of a diseased cell, to work out where the problem occurred and how it can be fixed.

Dr Jasmin Fisher, an associate professor at Cambridge University, told The Telegraph: ‘If we are able to control and regulate cancer then it becomes like any chronic disease and then the problem is solved.’

‘I think for some of the cancers five years, but definitely within a decade. Then we will probably have a century free of cancer.’

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