The app is helping researchers to identify “hyperfoods” and existing drugs to fight the long-term effects of coronavirus infection

Working in collaboration with Imperial College London, Vodafone Foundation first released its DreamLab app back in April 2020. 

Initially designed to assist in cancer research, the app works by harnessing the processing power of the downloader’s mobile device while it is being charged overnight. Using AI, this network of idle phones can then form a virtual supercomputer with enormous processing power, capable of performing calculations far more quickly than conventional computers. 

In 2020, in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, the app was rapidly repurposed and rolled out to help perform complex drug analysis to find effective treatments for Covid-19.

Now, the focus of the app is being shifted once again, this time to tackle the more long-term effects of coronavirus infection by analysing biomolecules in food and identify phytochemically rich “hyperfoods” to help combat symptoms. 

“Combining the processing power of tens of thousands of smartphones, the DreamLab app drastically reduces the time taken to analyse such vast amounts of data. While it would have taken decades using traditional computing methods, the cloud-based network can crunch the same amount of data in months,” explained Dr Kirill Veselkov, Assistant Professor at Imperial College London.

“For us to understand the impact of complex combinations of thousands of biomolecules in the food we eat on long COVID using traditional experimental methods is impossible – it would be like using a bicycle to explore the galaxy.

“Our project takes a radically different approach while uniting the public in one large citizen science AI project. It explores the ‘dark matter’ of nutrition against long COVID beyond the traditional analysis of five major nutrition categories (proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals). Everyone can contribute with their smartphone to this important piece of scientific research without having to be a professional scientist.”

The ‘DreamLab long COVID research project’, which begins today, is expected to be completed in late 2023, with findings made available to the research community to begin clinical trials. 

Research and potential treatments focussing on Long Covid cannot come soon enough. According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, currently over 1.8 million in the UK are currently affected by Long Covid, which can have debilitating symptoms including extreme tiredness, breathing problems, insomnia, and ‘brain fog’.

Ultimately, it is hoped that this DreamLab research data could lead to meaningful dietary advice for these Long Covid patients, helping them to reduce the impact of their symptoms. 

Currently, DreamLab has been downloaded by 2.2 million people and is available in 17 countries. 

It is also worth remembering that DreamLab’s potential goes far beyond medical research and could provide a major boost to any data analysis dealing with huge datasets. Last year, the Vodafone Foundation announced it was seeking compatible research partners focussed on climate change, suggesting that DreamLab could play a supporting role in tackling the climate crisis. 

“We’ve seen the impact and tremendous power of DreamLab and now we want to harness this to drive climate research and help to tackle the environmental emergency facing our planet,” said Andrew Dunnett, Director SDGs, Sustainable Business and Foundations, Vodafone Group.

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