Could Your Home Computer Cure Smallpox?

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A team of scientists and technology companies wants to harness the idle processing power of as many as two million personal computers to sift through millions of molecular combinations.

It would be part of a huge effort to uncover a cure for the virulent and contagious smallpox.

Scientists say the combined power of all of the PCs would be 30 times greater than the fastest supercomputer. Volunteers download a screensaver from It runs whenever their computers have the resources to spare to perform computations for the project. When the user connects to the Internet, the computer sends data back to a central hub and gets another assignment.

Currently, the federal government is worried about a potential bioterror attack. There is a plan in place to help local communities deal with such an attack, should it happen.

Here in mid-Michigan, some doctors, hospital staff and first responders will soon be rolling up their sleeves to get a smallpox vaccine, to make them immune to the disease.

However, the smallpox vaccine comes with a host of problems. There is a one or two in a million chance of dying from it, and the risk of other, serious complications are greater. People who have previously had the vaccine are less likely to have an adverse reaction to re-vaccination, but those same people are not currently immune to smallpox.

Mass vaccinations in the U.S. stopped in 1970. The vaccine is a live vaccine, made from a virus related to the smallpox virus. The vaccine was an integral part of the effort to wipe out smallpox around the world, and now, the virus exists only in laboratories for medical and bio-weapons research.