AT A GLANCE: Sony promotes PS3 as a 'disease fighter'

Sorry, shouldn’t this be press released on 1 April?
No, it’s not an April Fool’s joke. Sony, which produces the PlayStation 3, has announced that its games console – launching in the UK this Friday – can now be used in an international research project. The aim of the project is to find cures to some of the world’s most virulent diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and Alzheimer’s.

How does playing video games help?
It doesn’t. Sony has developed software that will allow PS3s to link to the project, run by Stanford University in California, which has been using spare memory capacity on hundreds of thousands of linked-up computers worldwide to perform simulations on molecular data.

What’s the coverage been like?
Positive articles appeared last week in publications such as the Financial Times and Business Week, as well as on BBC Online. Sony Computer Entertainment and Stanford last Friday held a press conference on campus, which is where the scheme – called Folding@Home – is based.

And Sony has been handling media relations?
A corporate press release came via Sony headquarters in Tokyo. Nick Sharples, head of Sony’s corporate comms for Europe, will be responsible for media activity around the disease research programme here – although at present the PR team in the UK is concentrating on the PS3 launch itself. Jonathan Rabinovitz is director of media relations at Stanford.

What does the ‘Folding’ bit mean?
Proteins are the main constituent of our bodies. When they don’t ‘fold’ – or assemble – correctly, diseases such as Parkinson’s, and many cancers, can result.

Won’t that interrupt Grand Theft Auto?
No. Although participants’ PS3s will be linked to the project all the time, it is only when users aren’t playing that the Stanford server taps the machines for computations. PS3’s processor is roughly ten times faster than that of a normal home PC.

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