Microsoft has vowed to “solve the problem of cancer”, including brain tumours, within a decade by using ground-breaking computer science to crack the code of diseased cells so they can be reprogrammed back to a healthy state.
In a dramatic change of direction for the technology giant, the company has assembled a ‘small army’ of the world’s best biologists, programmers and engineers who are tackling cancer as if it were a bug in a computer system.
This summer Microsoft opened its first wet laboratory where it will test out the findings of its computer scientists who are creating huge maps of the internal workings of cell networks.
The researchers are even working on a computer made from DNA which could live inside cells and look for faults in bodily networks, like cancer. If it spotted cancerous changes it would reboot the system and clear out the diseased cells.
Chris Bishop, laboratory director at Microsoft Research, told The Independent newspaper, “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.
“It’s not just an analogy, it’s a deep mathematical insight. Biology and computing are disciplines which seem like chalk and cheese but which have very deep connections on the most fundamental level.”
The biological computation group at Microsoft are developing molecular computers built from DNA which act like a doctor to spot cancer cells and destroy them.
Andrew Philips, head of the group, said: “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.”
The programming principles and tools group has already developed software that mimics the healthy behaviour of a cell, so that it can be compared to that of a diseased cell, to work out where the problem occurred and how it can be fixed.
The Bio Model Analyser software is already being used to help researchers understand how to treat leukaemia more effectively.
Dr Jasmin Fisher, senior researcher and an associate professor at Cambridge University, said: “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.”
Microsoft’s announcement comes hot on the heels of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr Chan, announcing their $3 billion dollar pledge to ‘eradicate’ all diseases including cancers.
Earlier this year, another tech entrepreneur and founder of Napster, Sean Parker, pledged a multimillion dollar immunotherapy research centre.