Several friends and acquaintances have recently died from cancer. The chemo treatments are crude and destroy quality of life. Furthermore, chemo treatments depend on the efficacy of antibiotics for protection while one's immune system is compromised.

We have to do better.

Who is developing the "personalized medicine" processes? It seems like there should be a way to look at the DNA of a cancer and reprogram it to settle down or go away.

My expertise is in systems engineering and software development - not in the biological sciences. I am just retired, so I don't need reimbursement. How can I contribute to improving this situation?

I suspect the answers depend on more fundamental research, that is why my question is: How can I contribute on a volunteer basis to cancer research?

Update: I plan to upgrade from a 2006 MacBook Pro to something that can run BOINC problems a bit quicker. Rosetta@home seems like a reasonable target.

I have found Rosalind - a site for exploring bioinformatics. The next step for me is to ask friends who might have contacts in academia. Thanks for looking!

  • 1
    Search idealist.org for volunteer opportunities posted by cancer research groups (they'll probably be fundraising organizations) in your area.
    – ff524
    Feb 28, 2014 at 2:35
  • 1
    I recommend asking this on biostars.org, the bioinformatics SE.
    – Bitwise
    May 5, 2014 at 0:31

2 Answers 2


I greatly admire your interest in contributing to an area of medicine, and I'm sorry to hear that so many of your friends and relatives have succumbed to this disease. You're absolutely right that the treatments are barbaric. The subject of personalized medicine with application to cancer treatment is a hot scientific topic right now, and we're probably on the verge of a revolution in this area.

Two specific groups come to mind as leaders in this though I'm sure there are more. Levi Garraway's lab at Harvard is developing "PHIAL", which stands for "Precision Heuristics for Interpreting the Alteration Landscape" [in cancer genomes]. The name alludes to Galadriel's phial, although it remains to be seen whether this sort of computational analysis will live up to being 'a light to in dark places, when all other lights go out.' It is exactly what you imagined in your post, that is, given DNA sequence, predicting candidate causal mutations. There's also Tim Ley's group at Washington University in St. Louis which was one of the first to sequence a patient (one of their own oncologists!), identify the specific mutation and treat his cancer. The story is pretty compelling, but it's worth noting that this was a fortuitous situation where the underlying mechanism just happened to be one treatable by a drug already on the market.

Laboratories are always underfunded -- your services would be a gift. It's just a matter of finding the right one. If you live in a major city, consider contacting some people in cancer to identify someone in computational biology or bioinformatics. If you post what city you're in, I (or others, I'm sure) could help you find a lab doing this sort of work already. Good luck!


You may want to consider keeping an eye on Solvers.io - it's a new site that's trying to link up coders with scientists in need of help for bite-sized software development tasks. I haven't looked to see if there are any cancer-specific calls for help, but it may be a place to find people who would value your time and expertise.

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