From Supercomputing to Superfoods

Crowdsourcing app helps uncover hundreds of anti-cancer molecules in food

London, Friday 5th July 2019:  New research published today by Imperial College London and powered by DreamLab, a crowdsourcing app from The Vodafone Foundation that uses mobile phones to crunch scientific data whilst you sleep, revealed new insight into the possibilities around repurposing existing drugs to target cancer and previously undiscovered foods with anti-cancer properties. Carrot, celery, orange, grape, coriander, cabbage and dill can all help fight cancer.

The breakthrough comes from Imperial College London’s DRUGS/DreamLab project which pairs bespoke AI technologies, mobile supercomputing and big “-omics” data to analyse billions of combinations of existing drugs and/or food-based molecules to identify previously unknown cancer-beating properties.

Researchers analysed over 8,000 everyday foods and identified, for the first time, more than 110 cancer-beating molecules. Many of these exist in flavonoids, the huge class of compounds which help to give fruit and vegetables their colour.

This research would usually take years using experimental methods and thanks to the DreamLab it has been conducted in just over a year since the launch of partnership in May 2018.[1].

Published in Nature family journal ‘Scientific Reports’, the research also uniquely shows that both the antidiabetic drug Metformin and antimicrobial drug Rosoxacin have a potential direct role in anti-cancer therapy. Because these drugs have already been in therapeutic use, their approval carry fewer risks, substantially lower costs and shorter timelines than developing completely new drugs. 

Dr. Kirill Veselkov, Lead researcher, Imperial College London, said,

“This is ground-breaking moment for us. The next step is exploring the power that combinations of the cancer-fighting foods will have on individuals and they have built a team of Michelin-star chefs, molecular gastronomists, computer scientists, biochemical/microbiota scientists, sensory scientists, health economists and clinicians to advance the next phase of the project.”

The project works off the basis that finding new cancer-beating properties in existing drugs and food components will effectively get around the slow and costly process of developing new specific medicines to treat these diseases. 

The research paper ‘HyperFoods: Machine intelligent mapping of cancer-beating molecules in foods is available online now at
www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-45349-y

[1] Putting it into context, a PC running 24-hours a day would take 300 years to process the data required, while comparatively, 100,000 smartphones running six hours a night, could do the job in three months.

Notes to editors:

About Vodafone Foundation
The Vodafone Foundation’s Connecting for Good programme combines Vodafone’s charitable giving and technology to make a difference in the world. Globally, the Vodafone Foundation supports projects that are focused on delivering public benefit through the use of mobile technology across the areas of health, education and disaster relief. The Vodafone Foundation invests in the communities in which Vodafone operates and is at the centre of a network of global and local social investment programmes. The Vodafone Foundation is a UK registered charity, registered charity number 10989625.
The Vodafone Foundation has launched DreamLab in the UK following a successful launch in Australia in 2015. Vodafone Foundation Australia, which was founded in 2002, is in partnership with the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Hello Sunday Morning to help speed up cancer research.

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