As the world gets increasingly high-tech, the lines between various fields of competence are starting to blur. We saw Google getting involved with pharma companies on projects like smart lenses, capable of monitoring the glucose levels of diabetics, and now we hear Microsoft's Research unit is working on a way to solve cancer by treating it as a computer virus.
The software giant set up a biological computation unit in Cambridge, UK, where it has 150 software developers and scientists working on the creation of computer-based biological models to assist pharma companies in drug discovery and development. However, one of the long-term goals of the unit is to tackle life-threatening diseases like cancer by treating the disease as an information system that can be programmed.
The unit is working on two projects in this field, one is building a computational model of the processes that happen within a cell, whereas the second project is researching how cells make decisions, including those that trigger cancer.
Chris Bishop, laboratory director at Microsoft Research, claims cancer is basically a computational problem and that biology and computing are disciplines with very deep connections on the most fundamental level.
As discussed in the full article by Fast Company, it's a moonshot goal but it could eventually pay off big. One of the end-goals is to create sort of a molecular computer built from DNA, which can detect cancer and clear out diseased cells from your system.
Experts say this kind of a moonshot is plausible, but hurdles abound. "The dream is to model everything, no experiments required," says Gabriel Otte, a computational biologist and biotech entrepreneur. But he stresses that it's still very early, and these tools are most useful today to create high-level models of drug responses. Bringing this type of system to scale will require that researchers prove that it is both accurate and robust—and that will take time.
A more sensational piece by Telegraph suggests scientists may be able to control and regulate cancer "within five years to a decade". One interesting nuance here is that this will not be a cure for cancer, but a way to turn it into a chronic disease.